2FA vs Passkeys: ​​Strengthening Login Security Beyond Passwords

As users demand both security and convenience, modern authentication methods strive to balance these priorities. Two popular methods to improve login security beyond passwords alone are passkeys and two-factor authentication (2FA).

2FA has rapidly gained adoption in recent years by adding a second verification factor to the traditional username and password combination. This helps validate user identities and reduce unauthorised access. However, 2FA still relies on remembering and entering passwords.

Passkeys present an alternative credential-based model that removes passwords entirely from the sign-in process. With passkeys, each user's identity is cryptographically tied to their devices and accounts, allowing login through biometrics or device attestation alone.

While both 2FA and passkeys fortify user verification compared to passwords, they differ in their technical implementations and user experiences. The main differences between these two multifactor authentication strategies will be discussed in this article, along with an analysis of each's functionality, appropriate applications, and adoption opportunities and difficulties.

What are Passkeys?

Passkeys are unique cryptographic credentials that are used during the sign-in process instead of passwords. With passkeys, a user's identity is bound to their individual devices and online accounts through cryptographic attestation rather than a memorised secret.

When setting up a passkey, a public-private key pair is generated; the public key is stored on the server to verify logins, while the private key remains on the enrolled device. During authentication, the device proves its identity by signing a challenge with the private key.

This allows users to sign in with a simple verification, like a fingerprint or face scan, rather than a password. Passkeys avoid the vulnerabilities of weak, reused, or stolen passwords. If a device is lost or stolen, passkeys cannot be extracted since they never leave the device.

Passkeys provide cryptographic identity, which removes the entire need for password management. Authentication becomes a seamless, one-step process tied directly to the user's registered devices and identity, bypassing passwords for a simpler and more secure sign-in experience.

How they work:

With 2FA, the sign-in process involves separate verification steps. First, the user enters their username and password. Then, they must confirm their identity through a second factor - whether a one-time code sent via SMS, authentication app, or security key.

The two-step process adds friction but strengthens protection by requiring multiple pieces of information to log in. Even if one factor is compromised, the other still prevents unauthorised access.

Passkeys streamline the login process into a single step for enrolled devices. When the user attempts to sign in on an authenticated device, their identity is verified directly through a biometric or device credential rather than a discrete password.

A fingerprint, face scan, PIN, or other prompt replaces the need to manually type or retrieve passwords. The on-device biometrics or credentials function as the passkey tying the user's cryptographic identity to that particular device.

Authentication is effortless as long as the user has possession of the device. Unlike a traditional password, the passkey permits credential-based sign-in without ever disclosing the passkey itself.

Access Control

2FA is applied and enforced independently for each account. A separate two-factor verification is required for every system that supports 2FA—whether email, banking, social media, or other online services.

While strengthening security per login, 2FA does not centrally manage a user's identity or synchronisation of credentials. It only protects individual accounts in isolation.

With passkeys, a user's authenticated identity is linked to all of their enrolled devices and accounts within a single, integrated system, which is a different strategy. With passkeys, only one biometric verification step is needed to access any associated account from any enrolled device.

This centralised approach to cryptographically tying user identity together enables consistent, single sign-on-like access to various platforms and applications. By integrating identity management, passkeys maintain robust access controls while streamlining the sign-in process.


2FA can generally be added as an extra layer of security to existing password-based authentication systems with modest technical requirements. Service providers need only implement standards like TOTP, OATH, or FIDO to enable common 2FA methods.

This retroactive compatibility allows 2FA to be rolled out incrementally as an added protection for sensitive or high-risk accounts without overhauling existing authentication architectures. Users can also elect to protect some but not all accounts with 2FA.

Passkeys are all-or-nothing in nature, necessitating coordination and compatibility between user devices, operating systems, browsers, and apps. The implementation of passkeys across platforms is contingent upon the establishment of uniform sign-in and key management protocols, along with enrollment workflows.

While future-proofing long-term security, passkeys impose more demands on technology integration and user training upfront. A phased transition strategy is necessary to smoothly transition from passwords to passkeys authenticated experiences.

Adoption Challenges of Passkey

For passkeys to achieve their full potential, overcoming interoperability challenges is crucial. Widespread compatibility is needed between operating systems, browsers, applications, and websites to allow passkey-based credentials to securely roam across devices and services.

Establishing common technical standards and ensuring consistent support across the ecosystem will be an ongoing process. A lack of universal protocols could initially limit passkey usage to discrete platforms or single sign-on ecosystems.

Additionally, users must understand how passkeys differ fundamentally from passwords they have used for decades. Educating people about the security benefits and teaching new authentication habits like biometric logins takes significant effort.

Passkeys that deliver too radical a change could face adoption hurdles versus incremental improvements like 2FA. Effective onboarding and assistance transitioning from passwords will smooth user acceptance of passkeys.

Overcoming interoperability obstacles and changing user behaviour patterns are key challenges that could slow near-term passkey adoption, even if the technology has long-term security advantages over common authentication methods.


Both two-factor authentication and passkeys have evolved to strengthen online identity validation beyond basic usernames and passwords. Each offers important security improvements, depending on individual technical capabilities and user requirements.

For organisations seeking interim upgrades, 2FA is readily implementable with mature standards and retrofit options. Its additional verification layers bolster many existing systems without wholesale replacement demands.

Passkeys promise a future devoid of passwords altogether through device-bound cryptographic credentials. This more seamless sign-in model protects users from compromised credentials if properly supported across the ecosystem.

As technologies advance and interoperability becomes ubiquitous, passkeys could eventually surpass most 2FA methods by integrating identity rather than isolating each account. Their cryptographic foundation establishes long-term security suitable for high-value assets.