From the horse’s mouth
FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance
Microsoft is to enable Windows 10, which is the next version of Windows, to work with the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance standards for its authentication and authorisation needs.
But what is this about? FIDO is about providing a level playing field where authentication and authorisation technologies like biometrics, electronic keys and the like can work with applications and sites that support these technologies.
The goal with FIDO is to remove the need for drivers, client-side software and certificate-authority setups for 2-factor authentication or password-free authentication. As well, one hardware or software key can be used across compatible services and applications without user parameters being shared between them.
There are two standards that have been defined by FIDO Alliance. One is UAF which supports password-free login using biometrics like fingerprints; USB dongles; MiFare NFC cards; Bluetooth-linked smartphones and the like as the key to your account. The other is U2F which allows these kinds of keys to serve as a “second factor” for a two-factor authentication setup.
But what could this mean? With a UAF setup, I could set things up so I could log in to Facebook using my fingerprint if the computer is equipped with a fingerprint reader but not have to worry about using a password vault that plays nicely with that fingerprint reader. With a U2F setup, I could make sure that I have a tight two-factor login setup for my Website’s management account or my bank account but use a preferred method like a USB key or a smartcard reader that reads my EMV-compliant bank card.
The current implementation tends to ride on client-side software like browser plugins to provide the bridge between a FIDO-enabled site and a FIDO U2F-compliant key and this can impair the user experience you have during the login. It is because of you having to make sure that the client-side software is running properly and you use a particular browser with it before you can interact with the secure site. There is also the risk that the software may be written poorly thus being more demanding on processor and memory resources as well as providing an inconsistent user interface.
Microsoft will bake these authentication standards in to Windows 10 for the login experience and authentication with application-based and Web-based services. This will cut down on the client-side software weight needed to enhance your Internet security and allows those who develop the authentication methods to focus on innovating with them, just as Microsoft has done with other functionality that it has baked in to the various Windows versions. It will apply to Azure-based cloud-hosted Active Directory services and on-premises Active Directory services for business users; along with the Microsoft Account which is used for home and small business users with Windows 8 login and Outlook.com (Hotmail).
The question yet to raise with FIDO UAF and U2F functionality is whether this will be provided for application-based “client-to-server” authentication for situations like word-processors being used to upload blog posts or native clients for online services like Dropbox and Evernote. Similarly, would this technology allow a device to serve as a temporary or conditional authentication factor such as a smart lock that has just been used with your electronic key; or allow a card like a SIM card already installed in our smartphone or a MiFARE-compliant transit pass to serve as an electronic key for our Webmail.
Personally, I find that Windows implementing FIDO Alliance standards will allow us to make more use of various authentication technologies on our home or business computers.