Apple, Google and Microsoft team up on passwordless logins

A animation of a combination lock rotating through passwords to imitate password login.

Image Credits: Getty Images

In a rare show of alliance, Apple, Google and Microsoft have joined forces to expand support for passwordless logins across mobile, desktop and browsers.

Passwords are notoriously insecure, with weak and easily guessable credentials accounting for more than 80% of all data breaches, per Verizon’s annual data breach report. While password managers and multi-factor technologies offer incremental improvements, Apple, Google and Microsoft are working together to create sign-in technology that is more convenient and more secure.

The tech giants announced on Thursday that they are expanding support for a password-free sign-in standard from the FIDO Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium, which means you’ll soon be able to use your smartphone to sign in to an app or website on a nearby device, regardless of the operating system or browser you’re using. You’ll use the same action that you take multiple times each day to unlock your smartphone, such as with a verification of your fingerprint, face scan or a device PIN.

Users will also be able to automatically access their FiDO sign-in credentials, or “passkeys,” across multiple devices — including new ones — without having to re-enroll every account.

While the three companies have long supported the passwordless sign-in standard created by the FIDO Alliance, users are still forced to sign into each website or app with each device before they can use the passwordless feature. Over the next year, the three tech giants will implement passwordless FIDO sign-in standards across macOS and Safari; Android and Chrome; and Windows and Edge. This means that, for example, users will be able to sign in on a Google Chrome browser that’s running on Microsoft Windows, using a passkey on an Apple device.

This will make it much more difficult for hackers to compromise login details remotely since signing in requires access to a physical device.

“Working with the industry to establish new, more secure sign-in methods that offer better protection and eliminate the vulnerabilities of passwords is central to our commitment to building products that offer maximum security and a transparent user experience — all with the goal of keeping users’ personal information safe,” said Kurt Knight, Apple’s senior director of platform product marketing, in a press release.

This new collective commitment was commended by Jen Easterly, director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), who called it “the type of forward-leaning thinking that will ultimately keep the American people safer online.”

“At CISA, we are working to raise the cybersecurity baseline for all Americans,”

Easterly added. “Today is an important milestone in the security journey to encourage built-in security best practices and help us move beyond passwords. Cyber is a team sport, and we’re pleased to continue our collaboration.”While the password has so far survived many attempts to kill them for good, this could be one of the final nails in the password’s casket

IBM and The Weather Channel launch detailed local COVID-19 maps and data tracking

IBM+Cognos+Analytics+Dashboard_County+Level_2

There are already a number of resources available for mapping the spread of confirmed COVID-19 cases both in the U.S. and globally, but IBM  and its subsidiary The Weather Company  have launched new tools that bring COVID-19 mapping and analysis to more people via their Weather Channel mobile app and weather.com.

Existing tools are useful, but come from fairly specialized sources including the World Health Organization (WHO) and Johns Hopkins University. This new initiative combines data fro these same sources, including global confirmed reported COVID-19 cases, as well as reported data from sources at both the state and county level. This is collected on a so-called “incident map” that displays color-coded reported case data for states and counties, as well as on state-wide trend graphs and through reporting of stats including relative percentage increase of cases week-over-week.

On top of these sections built into the core, consumer-facing Weather.com products, IBM has also launched a more in-depth analytics reporting dashboard, providing views of global reported COVID-19 cases, as well as rate of spread based on available data, county-by-county stats and more.

This information from IBM, which runs on its Watson  and Cognos Analytics tools, are intended for use by both researchers and public officials – but they’re also meant for general public consumption. IBM is also providing resources including fact-checking resources and practical guidance for both COVID-19 patients and the general public, to help not only inform people about the spread of the virus, but also the steps they can take to protect themselves and others.

One of the key elements of COVID-19 mitigation is making sure that the average American has access to reliable and accurate information, including the most up-to-date guidelines about social distancing and isolation from trusted experts, including the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC). That makes this a key resource in the ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, since it resides in an app that is among the most popular pieces of software available for smartphones. There are around 45 million or so monthly active users of the Weather Channel app, which means that this information will now be readily accessible by a large percentage of the U.S. population.