Visions of the Future: What Could Happen to User Authentication?




user authentication, future, qualitative study, interview


The most prevalent information system security feature for the user is the authentication process. Passwords have been the primary authentication method for decades due to their simplicity for both the user and the system provider. However, over recent years, the digitalization of services has increased the number of credentials each user must manage, making traditional password authentication problematic for the user. Strong candidates for easier and more secure authentication methods are emerging (e.g., FIDO alliance, Single-sign-on, biometrics). Still, a single method has yet to dominate the market due to the rapid changes in technology, costs of implementation, trust in these methods, and the vast number of users and digital services. Due to the varied reasons that affect the adoption of these methods, it is unclear what kinds of authentication methods will be the forerunners in the future. This study aims to envision the future of user authentication and security features emerging from the interaction of different factors. We present a qualitative interview study, which examines six experts from the fields of authentication, cybersecurity, and emerging technologies. A hermeneutic mode of analysis is used to form scenarios of the future based on the observations of different experts. The results reflect an understanding of how users and their interactions with security features, such as authentication, may change over the following decade and beyond and how security professionals intend to incorporate this knowledge into future security systems. The results shed light on the influence of society, developing technology, and the need for user- and future-proof security in the coming years. This study will have several implications, as it will contribute to forming a coherent picture of the different elements that shape the future and give an idea of how to prepare for what is coming. Furthermore, it will provide an understanding of how choices with technology today lead to different futures.

Author Biographies

Hanna Paananen, University of Jyvaskyla

Hanna Paananen is a postdoctoral researcher who earned her Ph.D. in Information Systems with her thesis on Information Security Policies. Her research interests include user authentication within the wider context of digital societies and information security management in value networks.

Naomi Woods, University of Jyvaskyla

Naomi Woods is an Assistant Professor of Cyber Security and has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science. Her research includes usability and security of authentication, and infosec behavior. Woods has published in journals and conferences in HCI and Information Systems. Woods is currently the PI of a user authentication innovation project.