Magic in Cybersecurity: Magic links to replace the password

June 8, 2021 | Irfan Shakeel

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

These days, magic links are in the air. They are becoming an intriguing means to strengthen digital security without inconveniencing users.

This article discusses magic links, their magical function, and their potential benefits for a corporation.

Magic links

Magic links are authorized URLs that carry a token which grants accessibility to a particular user. They enable users to register or log in to a website, as well as make online transactions. When the user clicks on the URL, they get verified instantly.

Magic links usually have a short life and are one-of-a-kind. Magic links form a digital authentication technique that can use both a passwordless and a multi-factor authentication system.

Why use magic links

In a digital world, magic links are useful in passwordless and multi-factor authentication.

  • Passwordless authentication refers to a security system that doesn't use passwords. Users authenticate using a magic link, eliminating the need for passwords. They only require inputting an email address or contact number to get the URL to click.
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a method of user authentication in various stages. Two or more authentication methods increase the steps the user must take. However, magic links provide the minimum complexity since users only need to click the URL to complete the procedure.

How magic links work

Magic links consist of three steps:

  • On a sign-in page, the user inputs their email address.
  • If the user has a registered email address, they will receive an email containing a magic link.
  • To finish the sign-in cycle, the user selects and clicks the magic link.

Conversely, at the time of registration, the user can also get a live link for authentication later on. This technique is comparable to a password reset process, in which a user receives a hidden link that enables them to update their password. Magic links function in the same way as password resets do, whereas the user doesn’t need to type a password to navigate to their profile.

Magic link security concerns

One of several security issues users may face comes from the email provider. When email providers label magic link emails as spam, a significant email redirects to infrequently used spam folders. Users can require a link over a link without knowing they route to spam. The trick is to choose a reliable email provider with an IP address that traditional spam detection identifies as effective.

Organizations can improve security of their magic links implementation. If an application delivers a magic link and the client seeks another, does the first link lapse? Users can become irritated if they have to click on several links to find the recent one. Magic links that expire leave the login process with minimal loopholes but give the user fewer options to sign in. Organizations need to consider this balance.

Likewise, certain websites prevent users from utilizing magic links beyond the browser session in which the magic link was provided. When you close your window and attempt to sign in again, a magical link tends to be less magical.  Although, there is a middle way: Time limitation ensures that magic links do not remain active for an extended time.  

Benefits of magic links

Magic links provide benefits to organizations in several ways.

  • Since magic links have a similar process stream to password resets, integrating them requires only slight code changes.
  • To sign up for an app, users simply submit their email address and click the magic link, resulting in a quick onboarding procedure.
  • Reducing the checkout authentication process can mean fewer buyers abandon their transactions, which paves the way to further sales on both websites and smartphones.
  • Companies can save money on operating costs by swapping passwords with magic links.

Magic link examples

Medium one-time login

Medium sends an email containing a sign-in link for users to log in.

Slack magic links

Slack delivers an email with a magic link to the email address used to sign up, allowing the user to sign in to Slack without a password.

Final thoughts

Magic links can be an excellent way to provide users with easy logins. Using magic links with different authentication methods increases security. Magic links provide the minimum complexity since users only need to click the URL to complete the procedure.

Irfan Shakeel

About the Author: Irfan Shakeel, EH Academy

Irfan Shakeel is the founder of ehacking.net and creates future cyber security professionals by offering quality cyber security education at EH Academy. You can connect with him on Twitter (@irfaanshakeel) and LinkedIn.

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