Google has announced that you can now verify your identity by using your fingerprint or screen lock instead of a password when visiting certain Google services. The feature is available today on Pixel devices and coming to all Android 7+ devices over the next few days.
A major cause of data breaches is compromised passwords, whether through poor password hygiene or more sophisticated attacks, which is why technology companies and online service providers are exploring alternative security authentication methods.
These enhancements are built using the FIDO2 standards, W3C WebAuthn and FIDO CTAP, and are designed to provide simpler and more secure authentication experiences. They are a result of years of collaboration between Google and many other organisations in the FIDO Alliance and the W3C.
An important benefit of using FIDO2 versus interacting with the native fingerprint APIs on Android is that these biometric capabilities are now, for the first time, available on the web, allowing the same credentials be used by both native apps and web services. This means that a user only has to register their fingerprint with a service once and then the fingerprint will work for both the native application and the web service.
Note that your fingerprint is never sent to Google’s servers – it is securely stored on your device, and only a cryptographic proof that you’ve correctly scanned it is sent to Google’s servers.
This is useful in a number of scenarios across devices and platforms. First, it enables password-free logins on mobile web services, which means a user who logs into a specific website on their phone may be prompted to register their device with that website, after which they can use a previously configured local authentication method, such as a screenlock PIN code or a biometric mechanism.
The ultimate goal is to make online accounts more secure while confirming a user’s identify with as few obstacles as possible. It also means that a user only has to register their biometric credentials with an online service once for it to work across both web and native apps.
To begin with, you will be able to access all of your saved passwords through passwords.google.com without first having to enter your Google Account password.
To leverage the new feature, users will be required to log into their personal Google Account on the device and to set up a screenlock code, and it’s worth noting here that it will only work with Google’s own Chrome browser at first.
“This new capability marks another step on our journey to making authentication safer and easier for everyone to use,” Google said.
“As we continue to embrace the FIDO2 standard, you will start seeing more places where local alternatives to passwords are accepted as an authentication mechanism for Google and Google Cloud services.”