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Photo: Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images

No one likes passwords as a standalone tool to authenticate users. Since 2012, many groups have moved to "kill the password," using that phrase specifically. Yet we'll end the year of 2019 as password-dependent as always.

The big picture: The adage goes that there are three ways to authenticate users: asking them for a thing they know (like a password), a thing they have (like a house key) or a thing they are (like a fingerprint scan).

  • "A thing you know" is the only one of these a hacker can guess.

Everyone wants to kill the password. Google wants to kill the password. Microsoft wants to kill the password. The National Cyber Security Alliance wants to kill the password. Yahoo wanted to kill the password in 2015. Cellphone companies tried to kill it in 2014.

"Passwords won’t even be mostly dead anytime soon, because the fatality won’t spread to legacy applications that are too expensive to retrofit," said Wendy Nather, head advisory chief information security officer of Duo Security, a Cisco-owned company that specializes in bolstering login security.

The intrigue: There are other options than passwords for consumer-friendly security.

  • A widely supported passwordless encryption protocol called WebAuthn is the most recent attempt to codify a global standard.
  • Microsoft, and others, offer apps that use cellphones to authenticate.
  • Google and Facebook allow users to login once on their services and log into other sites based on their go-ahead.

But, but, but: Users have a tendency to assume that authentication systems that are easier to use are less secure — that, somehow, the amount of effort it takes the user to do something is indicative of how difficult it would be for a hacker to break in.

  • The Facebook breach shows some of the dangers of using a website with multiple moving parts as a centralized clearinghouse of user authentication.
  • And, in general, for the security savvy consumer, it's always safer to use multifactor authentication — say, a thing you have plus a password or a biometric plus a password.

Editor's note: Wendy Nather is the sister of David Nather, managing editor at Axios.

Go deeper

58 mins ago - World

U.S. and NATO answer Putin in writing while bracing for Ukraine invasion

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The U.S. and NATO provided Russia with written proposals on Wednesday to advance a "diplomatic path forward," even as they warned that Russia could invade Ukraine within days.

Why it matters: This is a delicate diplomatic balancing act. The U.S. and NATO want to show they're serious about diplomacy but unwilling to compromise on "core principles" — all without providing Vladimir Putin with an additional pretext for escalation.

The political leanings of the Supreme Court justices

Data: Martin-Quinn scores; Chart: Axios Visuals

The Supreme Court will continue to have a solid conservative majority even with Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement.

How to read the chart: An analysis by political scientists Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn, known as the Martin-Quinn Score, places judges on an ideological spectrum. A lower score indicates a more liberal justice, whereas a higher score indicates a more conservative justice.

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.