Passive Authentication

What Is Passive Authentication?

Passive authentication is a means of authenticating your users with no friction, as it doesn’t require them to take any specific action. It comes in many forms, using everything from biometric authentication technology such as facial recognition to the analysis of a user’s digital fingerprint. The idea is to provide a secure, robust authentication process that underpins a positive user experience by removing friction.

Passive authentication is the opposite of active authentication. We’ll discuss this in more detail below, but the key difference is that active authentication requires the user to take specific actions while passive authentication does not.

A wide range of organizations use passive authentication to enhance the user experience they deliver while also enjoying the peace of mind that comes with knowing their systems are well-protected and secure. As it can be achieved in many different ways, organizations can adapt the steps they take to implement passive authentication to their specific needs and infrastructure.

The seamless nature of passive authentication suits customers’ evolving expectations regarding convenience and minimal friction. As such, any business that wants to keep its customers happy and its systems secure needs to consider the benefits of implementing a passive authentication process for its users.

Reduce Fraud Rates on Average by 70-80%

Partner with SEON to reduce fraud rates in your business with real-time data enrichment, machine learning, and advanced APIs.

Speak with an Expert

What Is an Example of Passive Authentication?

Let’s say a user logs in to your system using their usual hardware, browser, and IP geolocation according to your records. In such a situation, a sophisticated passive authentication system can allow the user to log in without further – active – authentication measures (such as an SMS one-time passcode) being required.

The growth in sophistication of device fingerprinting in recent years has done much to enable such advances in passive authentication. With the right systems and software in place, your business can observe a huge amount of information about a user – then use that to authenticate them frictionlessly.

You can use observable information to judge the likelihood of whether a genuine user is logging in or if it is, in fact, someone with nefarious intent. After all, if a log-in attempt involves a different IP geolocation to normal, while also being from a different device and browser, that should raise enough red flags to trigger – at the very least – additional authentication measures.

How Does Passive Authentication Work?

Passive authentication works by using information that you can observe about the user. When enough of this information matches your expectations about that particular user, authentication can be passive, meaning you don’t need to introduce any further steps.

Websites and software can observe a surprising amount of detail about a user. Using behavioral analysis and device fingerprinting, you can build up a unique profile relating to each user – hence it being likened to fingerprints. Anything from keystroke patterns to time-stamps that record the user’s usual log-in patterns can contribute to the building of such a profile.

A user’s profile provides the basis to which you can compare the user each time they attempt to log in to your system, app, or service. If their details match expectations, passive authentication is fine. If they don’t, you’ll need an extra security measure to kick in, such as the user entering a one-time passcode or undergoing a biometric verification check.

By providing a reliable, risk-based approach to authentication that reduces friction for the user, passive authentication massively helps determine whether users are who they claim to be. Indeed, it is why organizations ranging from government departments to private businesses have implemented it as part of their own authentication processes.

The Main Benefits of Passive Authentication

The main benefits of passive authentication are that, by cutting out the friction associated with active authentication, it enhances the user experience and ensures a robust degree of security.

Eliminating friction is not just some “nice to have” feature these days. Your customers expect their interactions with you to be positive and friction-free. Fail to deliver on that front, and you could quickly find both your reputation and your customer numbers falling. For instance, according to Khoros, 67% of customers have spoken to others about their poor experiences with a brand; while, for 65%, such experiences have led them to switch to a different brand entirely.

The fact that passive authentication can remove friction from the log-in process is, therefore, a major benefit for any business that wants happy customers!

Security is the other main benefit, of course. Passwords are considered fairly insecure these days, with phishing, social engineering, malware, brute force attacks, and various other forms of attack all proving effective at cracking them. Many of these attack vectors are on the rise. Kaspersky reports that the number of reported phishing attacks more than doubled in 2022, reaching over 500 million.

Passive authentication goes well beyond easily cracked passwords to understand the unique context of each user’s log-in and usage patterns. It delivers reliable security that lets genuine users log in while putting additional barriers up for any seemingly suspicious log-in attempts.

Differences Between Active and Passive Authentication

The difference between active and passive authentication is simple: Active authentication requires the user to take one or more actions as part of a challenge and response process, while passive authentication does not.

A classic example of this is when you set up face verification as part of your biometric authentication process on your smartphone. When you first set it up, you must follow certain prompts, such as moving your eyes in response to something on the screen or turning your face to the side. The authentication process challenges you to do something, and you have to respond – meaning it is an active process.

Active authentication can cause irritation fairly fast if it doesn’t work seamlessly. Even when it’s working smoothly, active authentication still adds friction to the user’s experience.

Passive authentication, by contrast, removes that friction. This is why it is so popular with users as well as with the organizations that implement it.

Relation Between Passive Authentication and Customer Experience

Friction costs businesses their customers. That’s why the correlation between passive authentication and a happier customer experience is so important. By removing friction, passive authentication upgrades the user experience.

Customers these days are often impatient. According to Podium, a three-second delay in a website’s load time is enough to drive away around 40% of visitors. Meanwhile, a staggering 87% will walk away from an online purchase if the checkout process is too complicated. Customers simply don’t have the patience or inclination to deal with friction – the demands on their time are too great and the number of businesses competing for their custom too many.

This means that failing to meet your users’ expectations regarding the customer experience can quickly send your churn rate soaring. A friction-packed authentication process can certainly contribute to this, which is where the relationship between passive authentication and customer experience comes into play. By removing fiction, passive authentication can ensure customer expectations are met and thus drive up satisfaction levels.

Reduce Risk with SEON

SEON’s advanced APIs help keep fraudsters and high-risk users out of your system, minimizing ROI damage from chargebacks and fines. See what they can do for you.

Speak with an Expert

How Does Passive Authentication Help Fight Fraud?

Passive authentication helps fight fraud by helping determine whether users are who they say they are. It checks the details of every individual user as they attempt to log in, comparing their behavior at this log-in attempt to previously logged behavior.

This means passive authentication can spot fraudsters before they gain access to a system and ultimately put additional authentication measures in their way.

By using passive authentication, businesses are taking a proactive approach to fighting fraud. Your company can use this approach for account takeover fraud detection, where a cybercriminal logs into and exploits a genuine customer’s account. With passive authentication in place, such a customer’s usual log-in should be friction-free.

On the other hand, a cybercriminal with a different IP geolocation, different keystroke pattern, different hardware, different browser configuration, and so on would quickly raise red flags.

This is why passive authentication has become a must for all organizations that are serious about stopping fraud while also keeping their customers happy.

Related Terms

Related Articles


Contact Us for a Demo

Feel free to reach out to us for a demo!