Apple ‘passkeys’ support in macOS Ventura and iOS 16 promise a passwordless future

Apple highlighted many new features coming to the next major iteration of macOS — Ventura — and iOS16 at WWDC 2022. One of the more intriguing ones is Passkeys, which look to replace passwords for any websites and apps requiring authentication.

Just about anyone will tell you that creating and maintaining safe, hard-to-break passwords is a pain in the backside. Password managers are helpful for remembering and automatically entering credentials, but even still are not 100-percent foolproof. Even the most secure passwords are worthless if leaked in a data breach, especially if the password to your password manager leaks!

Apple thinks it has a way to authenticate users securely without the need to remember complicated passwords and worry about changing them frequently. Passkeys rely on biometrics to sign Safari users into websites without the possibility of having their credentials stolen.

“Passkeys are unique digital keys that stay on-device and are never stored on a web server, so hackers can’t leak them or trick users into sharing them,” Apple said. “Passkeys make it simple to sign in securely, using Touch ID or Face ID for biometric verification, and iCloud Keychain to sync across Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV with end-to-end encryption.”

However, Apple says that the technology is not limited to just Safari users. It works in apps and on non-Apple devices –that is, as long as you have an iPhone with Touch ID or Face ID. In other words, you could sign in to your bank’s website from your PC running Chrome by scanning a QR code with your iPhone.

The feature essentially turns your device into a physical authentication key. Although passkeys sync across all a user’s Apple devices via iCloud Keychain, they remain on-device when logging into a website or app and are never stored in a database to be leaked or breached.

There are some limitations to the feature, however. Mainly, it is only compatible with Macs built later than 2017 or 2018 running Ventura, and iPhone 8 and iPhone SE second generation or later with iOS 16 installed.

Passkeys are part of an initiative started by Apple, Google, and Microsoft last month to switch to passwordless authentication methods developed by the FIDO Alliance, which is part of the reason it works across different platforms. Google and Microsoft should be close to revealing their versions of the technology since all three companies promised implementation before year’s end.

Passkey availability began on Monday with the macOS Ventura beta release to those in the Apple Developer Program. A public beta begins next month, with the final stable release of Ventura following this fall.