Please Disrupt Passwords

I came into contact the other day with a new startup called GetClef. The essential idea behind GetClef is that they allow you to login to sites by scanning a QR code with your phone. No passwords - just a PIN on your phone and a (built-in) QR code scanner. I had had a similar idea when I worked at MySocialCloud, so in my interest I got in contact with their CPO and talked a little bit about their tech. My original assumption was that GetClef was ultimately a password manager that sent your passwords along after you auth’d with a QR Code. I was wrong - they’re getting rid of passwords altogether.

As soon as I realized this, I had to take a moment to sit back and realize the implications of that. I spend a lot of time thinking about password security, and usually for me that means strong random passwords. It had never dawned on me that completely replacing passwords was a real possibility.

When you think about it, though, replacing passwords is essential. Today, an 8-character alphanumeric+symbols password can be cracked in 57 days. Stronger passwords increase that time exponentially, but that’s today. Moore’s Law says that processor speeds double every two years. That means that every two years your passwords can be cracked in half the time.

Often times when I think about these “impending technology doom” problems, I wave it off on the basis that - similar to how processors evolve exponentially - technology evolves rapidly. It would be easy to ignore the impending doom of passwords with that justification, but it’s just not true. SHA-2, which is one of the better options for hashing passwords, was released in 2001. That’s 12 years ago! That’s not to say that a new encryption method couldn’t be released any day, but the fact is that cracking mechanisms are becoming more efficient faster than encryption mechanisms can be released.

This isn’t maintainable. As a whole, the technology community is relying on passwords. That’s fine now, but I’m really not sure how comfortable I am thinking about logging into my bank ten years from now with a password. It’s a problem that absolutely needs to be solved - and GetClef may be the answer - but please, for the love of tech, disrupt the password market.

Disclaimer: I spoke with the GetClef CPO about their security practices. There are a few vulnerability points that I can see, but they are minor. As a whole, I’d say that using GetClef is similarly secure as using passwords. Give them a few months, though, and I expect they will close those holes.

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