At KuppingerCole, we have been following the progress of FIDO alliance for quite some time. Since their specifications for scalable and interoperable strong authentication have been published last year, FIDO has already had several successful deployments in collaboration with such industry giants as Samsung, Google and Alibaba. However, their probably biggest breakthrough been announced just a few days ago by none other than Microsoft. According to their announcement, Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 10 will include support for FIDO standards to enable strong and password-free authentication for a number of consumer and enterprise applications.
We knew, of course, that Microsoft has been working on implementing a new approach to identity protection and access control in their next operating system. Moving away from passwords towards stronger and more secure forms of authentication has been declared on of their top priorities for Windows 10. Of course, solutions like smartcards and OTP tokens have existed for decades, however, in the modern heterogeneous and interconnected world, relying on traditional enterprise PKI infrastructures or limiting ourselves by a single vendor solution is obviously impractical. Therefore, a new kind of identity is needed, which would work equally well for traditional enterprises and in consumer and web scenarios.
Now, unless you’ve been entirely avoiding all news from Microsoft in the recent years, you should have probably already guessed their next move. Embracing an open standard to allow third party manufacturers to develop compatible biometric devices and providing a common framework for hardware and software developers to build additional security into their products instead of building another “walled garden” isn’t just a good business decision, it’s the only sensible strategy.
Microsoft has joined FIDO alliance as a board member back in December 2013. Since then, they have been actively contributing to the development of FIDO specifications. Apparently, a significant part of their designs will be included in the FIDO 2.0 specification, which will then be incorporated into the Windows 10 release. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too early to talk about specific details of that contribution, since FIDO 2.0 specifications are not yet public.
However, it is already possible to get a peek of some of the new functionality in action. Current Windows 10 Technical Preview is already providing several integration scenarios for Windows Sign-in, Azure Active Directory and a handful of major SaaS services like Microsoft’s own Office 365 and partners like Salesforce, Citrix and Box. Using Azure Active Directory, it’s already possible to achieve end-to-end strong two-factor authentication completely without passwords. Windows 10 release will add support for on-premise Active Directory integration as well as integration with consumer cloud services.
And, of course, since this authentication framework will be built upon an open standard, third party developers will be able to quickly integrate it with their products and services, security device manufacturers will be able to bring a wide array of various (and interoperable) strong authentication solutions to the market and enterprise users will finally be able to forget the words “vendor lock-in”. If this isn’t a win-win situation, I don’t know what is.
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