Next-Gen Smart Card Authentication: How Does FIDO Authentication Enhance Traditional Smartcard Logins?

Smartcard Login with FIDO2


In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, the protection of sensitive information has become increasingly crucial. As traditional authentication methods struggle to keep pace with evolving threats, smart card authentication has emerged as a reliable solution, providing enhanced security for both individuals and organizations.

In this article, we will delve into the evolution of smart card authentication, examining its strengths and limitations, and explore how it compares to innovative passwordless authentication methods offered by the FIDO Alliance. By the end, you will have a comprehensive understanding of the benefits and considerations of both approaches, empowering you to make informed decisions about the best authentication method for your enterprise's security needs.


What Is Smartcard Login and How Does It Work?

Elevating Smartcard Logins to New Heights of Security

FIDO Authentication Workflow: How does It Work?

How to Implement a Next-Gen Authentication Solution?

Step-by-Step Guide on Leveraging Hideez Service in AD Environment

The Evolution of Smart Card Authentication

What is a Smartcard Login and How Does It Work?

Smartcard login is an authentication method that utilizes a physical smart card as a means of verifying an individual's identity. The smart card, typically in the form of a plastic card embedded with a microchip, contains cryptographic keys and other secure elements that store and protect sensitive information. This method offers a robust multi-factor authentication approach, going beyond traditional username and password combinations.

When a user wants to access a system or resource, they insert the smart card into a card reader or utilize alternative connectivity options such as Bluetooth or NFC, enabling the card to communicate with the device or system. The card reader or connected device interacts with the smart card, initiating the authentication process.

The smart card acts as a unique identifier, and to complete the authentication, the user typically combines it with a PIN or biometric authentication such as a fingerprint or iris scan. This combination of something the user possesses (the physical smart card) and something they know or are (PIN or biometrics) creates a multi-factor authentication approach that significantly enhances security.

Smartcard login

Once the user's identity is verified, access to the desired system or resource is granted. The smart card login method provides a secure and convenient way for individuals to authenticate their identities and gain access to digital resources, offering an added layer of security through the use of cryptographic keys stored on the smart card.

FIDO2/WebAuthn: Elevating Smartcard Logins to New Heights of Security 

Have you ever heard of FIDO authentication? It's a modern way of verifying who you are online, making digital security stronger and more reliable. FIDO, which stands for Fast Identity Online, is an alliance founded by several tech companies, including PayPal and Lenovo, and has grown to include industry giants like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. 

While FIDO authentication shares similarities with smart card authentication, there are important differences that set them apart:

  1. Infrastructure Requirements: Smart card authentication often requires a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) to manage certificates, which adds complexity and infrastructure costs. On the other hand, FIDO authentication eliminates the need for setting up compex PKI, simplifying the implementation process and reducing overhead.
  2. Authentication Model: Smart card authentication typically follows a centralized model, where the authentication process relies on a central server. In contrast, FIDO authentication adopts a decentralized model, with the authentication event occurring directly on the FIDO authenticator. This decentralized approach enhances security by minimizing the exposure of sensitive data during transmission. The authentication process occurs directly on the authenticator, eliminating any single point of failure in your infrastructure.
  3. User Experience: Smart card authentication usually involves physically inserting a smart card into a card reader, which can be less convenient for users. FIDO authentication, on the other hand, offers a more seamless and user-friendly experience by leveraging various form factors, such as biometric sensors, USB devices, and mobile device secure elements.
  4. Tamper-Resistance and Security: While both smart card authentication and FIDO authentication provide tamper-resistant hardware security, FIDO authentication further enhances security through additional layers of protection. By running FIDO software on secure hardware, the execution of the authentication process is isolated within the smart card chip or embedded secure element, making it extremely difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access to the user's private keys.

In a nutshell, FIDO authentication offers several significant advantages compared to traditional smart card authentication:

  • Self-Enrollment: FIDO authentication enables users to independently bind their FIDO keys to their accounts, streamlining the enrollment process and providing a more user-centric experience. 
  • Variety of Authentication Methods: FIDO authentication offers a choice between three methods: USB/NFC security keys, platform authenticators (devices with a built-in TPM, and mobile applications. This versatility eliminates the need for card readers and provides users with options to authenticate based on their preferences.
  • Stronger Security: FIDO authentication employs public-key cryptography, generating unique cryptographic key pairs securely on your device. These keys never leave your device, offering a strong defense against hacking attempts and unauthorized access.
  • Simplicity: Unlike smart card authentication that often necessitates complex systems like Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), FIDO authentication simplifies the process. With FIDO, you can bypass the management of certificates typically required by PKI, resulting in easier setup and usage.

Finally, the best part is that FIDO2 authenticators (either smart cards or other form factors) enable users to sign in to Azure AD or hybrid Azure AD joined Windows 10 devices, providing single sign-on (SSO) access to cloud and on-premises resources. They are an excellent option for security-sensitive enterprises or scenarios where employees are unable or unwilling to use traditional smart cards as a second factor. 

FIDO Authentication Workflow: How Does It Work?

In the FIDO authentication workflow, the FIDO Server plays a crucial role in facilitating the secure communication between the user's device and the server. The FIDO Server acts as a bridge between the client and the relying party (such as a website or application) to ensure a smooth and secure authentication process.

When the user selects FIDO authentication, the FIDO Server communicates with the client application to initiate the authentication flow. The server prompts the user to approve the authenticator by performing a specific action, such as tapping the button on the security key or scanning a fingerprint.

Once the user approves the authenticator, a unique key pair is generated. The private key, which is securely stored on the user's device within the FIDO authenticator, remains inaccessible to any external entity. This ensures that the private key cannot be compromised even if the device or server is breached.

Simultaneously, the public key associated with the user's device is securely transmitted to the FIDO Server and stored on the server's database. This registration process establishes the trust between the user's device and the relying party, allowing for subsequent secure authentication attempts.

When the user wants to authenticate in the future, the FIDO authentication workflow follows a similar pattern. The relying party requests authentication, and the FIDO Server communicates with the user's device. The device presents a challenge to the user, who then verifies their identity by approving the authentication using the authenticator. This action triggers the release of the private key stored on the device, which generates a digital signature unique to that authentication session.

smart card authentication vs fido2

How to Implement a Next-Gen Authentication Solution

To shed light on the implementation of FIDO-based authentication login, let's take a closer look at the Hideez Authentication Service. This comprehensive solution serves as an exemplary illustration of how organizations can revolutionize traditional smartcard login by leveraging FIDO technology.

Hideez Service utilizes two main authentication tools: the Hideez Key security token and the Hideez Authenticator mobile app. Both tools serve as alternatives to physical smart cards that organizations can use depending on their size, security requirements, and budget.

These tools provide secure alternatives to physical smart cards, offering organizations flexibility, convenience, and enhanced security. Let's explore the key features of each:

Hideez Key:

  • Secure enterprise online authentication: The Hideez Key serves as a secure authentication token, enabling users to authenticate securely to various online services, applications, and platforms.
  • Secure enterprise Windows PC login: The Hideez Key allows users to log in securely to their Windows PCs without the need for traditional smart cards or complex password-based authentication.
  • Secure enterprise logout based on used proximity: With the Hideez Key, users can automatically log out from their Windows PC when they move away from their workstation, providing an additional layer of security.
  • access to the office: The Hideez Key features an embedded RFID tag, allowing users to gain physical access to their office premises.
  • OTP generator: The Hideez Key can generate one-time passwords (OTP), providing an added layer of security for authentication purposes.

Hideez Authenticator:

  • Secure enterprise online authentication: The Hideez Authenticator mobile app serves as a secure authentication tool, enabling users to authenticate securely to online services, applications, and platforms.
  • Secure enterprise Windows PC login: The Hideez Authenticator app enables passwordless login to Windows PCs, eliminating the need for traditional smart cards or complex passwords.

By leveraging the Hideez Key and Hideez Authenticator, organizations can enhance their authentication process, strengthen security, and streamline access to various systems and resources. With features like secure online authentication, secure Windows PC login, proximity-based logout, physical access control, and OTP generation, Hideez Service provides a comprehensive solution for modernizing smartcard login in enterprise environments.


Step-by-Step Guide on Leveraging Hideez Service in an Active Directory Environment

    How does the Hideez Service offer a seamless smartcard login experience without the need for actual smart cards? In this section, we will guide you through the steps of implementing the Hideez Service to achieve passwordless login:

    Step 1. Deploy the FIDO Server

    To begin implementing passwordless login with Hideez Service, the first step is to deploy the FIDO Server. Our experienced team will guide you through the process, whether you choose an on-premise or cloud deployment. If you wish, you can also request access to a demo version of the server to explore its capabilities. The annual cost of the server license per user is only $45, which includes the Hideez Authenticator app and technical support.

    Step 2. Integrate the Server with Active Directory:

    Once the FIDO Server is deployed, it needs to be integrated with your domain to import and synchronize your employees' information from Active Directory. This integration enables seamless user management and authentication. Additionally, you can set up automatic password changes in Active Directory for each user, if required.

    Step 3. Choose Authentication Methods

    With the Hideez Service, you have the flexibility to choose your preferred authentication methods. Options include Hideez Keys, other security keys like YubiKeys, the Hideez Authenticator app, or Passkeys integrated with employees' own devices. You can even use multiple methods simultaneously based on your organization's security requirements and user preferences.

    Step 4. Install Hideez Client Software

    To enable automatic PC logon and logout without smart cards and smart card readers, install the Hideez Client software on your Windows workstations. This software seamlessly integrates with the Hideez Service, allowing for a smooth and hassle-free authentication experience.

    Step 5. Enjoy a Truly Passwordless Authentication Experience

    Once all the components are in place, your organization can enjoy a truly passwordless experience. Easily assign or revoke authenticators for your employees, enable passwordless single sign-on (SSO), and add extra layers of security for privileged users. The Hideez Service empowers your organization to embrace the benefits of smartcard login without the need for physical smart cards.

    Through the implementation of the Hideez Service, organizations can streamline their authentication process, reduce costs associated with smart card deployment, and enhance overall security. With features like passwordless login, automatic PC logon, and integration with various authentication methods, the it empowers organizations to embrace a passwordless future while maintaining robust security measures.

    To learn more about the key features and benefits of the Service, we invite you to book a demo to access a free 30-day trial of the Hideez Service. Our team of experts is ready to assist you in implementing this innovative solution and revolutionizing the way you approach smartcard logins.

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