iOS 16 passkeys explained: what are they, how to use them

iOS 16 passkeys explained: what are they, how to use them
With iOS 16, Apple introduced a nifty feature called passkeys. And the thing about passkeys is that they can replace your passwords. That's right; you will no longer need to remember long and complex passwords. You can just use passkeys, which give you more convenient access to your accounts.

But how exactly do passkeys work, and how can you use them? This article will explain everything you need to know about passkeys, including what they are, how they function, and how to enable and use them on iPhones running iOS 16. So let's dive in!

What are Apple's passkeys, and how do they work?

The primary goal of passkeys is to permanently replace traditional passwords. Passkeys are unique digital keys that are stored locally on your device. Furthermore, they are end-to-end encrypted, work with Touch ID or Face ID, and use Apple's iCloud Keychain technology to sync across all of your Apple devices. Passkeys are also linked to the app or website they were created for, so phishing attacks cannot trick you into using them to sign into a fake app or website.

So basically, passkeys enable you to access your app and website accounts more securely and almost instantly without having to remember or use any passwords, which is something we've probably all wished for.

But doesn't iCloud Keychain already do the same thing? Well, with iCloud Keychain, you really don't need to fill anything out when you log in to a site. However, it still uses passwords. Passkeys, on the other hand, don't, which means that logins with passkeys are even more secure.

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As Apple has explained on its support site, when you create an account, the system creates "a unique cryptographic key pair." One of these keys is public and stored on the server of the app or site, and the other one —  the one that you need to sign in — is private and safely stored in your iCloud Keychain. The private key is never revealed to the server.

When you try to log in, your phone authorizes the passkey via Touch ID or Face ID, which then authenticates you to the app or website. No shared secret is transmitted.

How to enable passkeys on an iPhone

To turn on passkeys, go to:
  1. Settings
  2. Profile
  3. iCloud
  4. Passwords and Keychain
  5. Sync this iPhone

You will need to enter your iCloud and iPhone passcodes to proceed.

How to use passkeys on an iPhone

Apple passkeys are only available on sites and apps that support passkeys. The feature can not be used if the website or app you want to sign into does not support them.

Sadly, at least for the moment, there are not many sites that support passkeys, and only a few of them use the feature as a primary login method. However, we suppose that the Internet will slowly adopt the passkeys technology. It’s also very probable that Apple will eventually make them a mandatory option for App Store apps, just like how it did with the Log In With Apple feature. Now, if you are wondering which sites currently support passkeys, a Reddit user has compiled some of them in a dedicated thread.

In order to use passkeys, they must first be created on the sites themselves. However, at least for the moment, don't expect to see: "Create an Apple passkey" written anywhere. In most cases, the option you're looking for can be found under the options for adding hardware security devices like USB or NFC keys in your account's security settings. To show you how to create and use a passkey, we have decided to test Apple's new feature on the official website of good old Nvidia.

  1. Head to your profile's security settings
  2. Look for Hardware Security Device and tap it
  3. Choose + Add New Security Device
  4. Tap Continue with Passcode
  5. Type in your phone's passcode
  6. Name your new passkey
  7. Tap Submit and you are good to go

Your passkey is now saved under the name you chose for it, and you can use it to log in to the site.

To log in using a passkey, just return to Nvidia's log-in page and tap "Log in with security device." In the new pop-up window, tap Continue and a quick Face ID or Touch ID scan will get you inside without needing to type anything.

Where to find saved passkeys

You can find your passkeys under the Passwords menu in the Settings app. There you will find all your passkeys and the sites for which they have been created. If you want to delete a passkey, just tap and hold it and press "Delete."

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