Microsoft calls timeout on Apple Watch Authenticator

Using an Apple Watch as a device to authenticate access to corporate sites and services using Microsoft Authenticator is a convenience that is on the verge of disappearing. Microsoft says the feature will stop working after an Authenticator update scheduled for next month.

Apple Watch authentication disabled

Microsoft Authenticator makes it easy to sign in to your Microsoft accounts, supported apps, or services using two-step verification. Authenticator also generates one-time codes, so you don’t have to wait for text messages or calls to access your accounts.

Sites, software, and services use two-factor authentication (also known as multi-factor authentication) to prevent people from accessing your accounts, even if they know your passwords.

The decision to remove support means that the authenticator you may already be using with your watch will no longer work. And it will no longer be possible to download the app for the popular wearable. (However, Authenticator will still work with your iPhone.)

Why Microsoft is withdrawing support

Microsoft said the removal of support is because Apple Watch will no longer support some Authenticator security features. As I understand it, this probably refers to the Number match Microsoft will apply Authenticator starting in February; which is not supported for Apple Watch.

On a support page explaining the moveMicrosoft said:

“In the next release of Authenticator in January 2023 for iOS, there will be no companion app for watchOS because it is incompatible with the security features of Authenticator. This means that you will not be able to install or use Authenticator on Apple Watch….”

“This change only affects Apple Watch, so you’ll still be able to use Authenticator on your other devices.”

The effect of the change is likely limited. Not only will it remain possible to use iPhones with Authenticator, but there are also alternative systems that can work together with those of Microsoft. And we know that Apple, Microsoft, Google and others want to replace passwords with passkeys.

The latter promise to provide a more convenient and safer alternative for security; it seems inevitable that biometrics, as with the Apple Watch, will eventually be part of that future. Watch this space.

In the meantime…

There are alternatives

Apple now has a authentication tool built into iOS you can access and use Password within Settings, although this may not be enough to replace Microsoft’s security. There are alternative tools to handle two-factor authentication Do they still offer an Apple Watch app. Authy is one such tool, but it may not be acceptable in your company since it doesn’t support MSAuth notifications.

If the alternative works within your corporate security policy, Authy can be configured to replace the Authenticator while still controlling access to Microsoft services. The process for doing this is described in an Authy tech support note, available here. There is also an extensive discussion on Reddit about alternatives to Authenticator (including some criticism of the available options) Here.

There are other alternatives that work with the iPhone as well, some of which don’t necessarily offer Apple Watch apps, including, Google Authenticator, LastPass, WatchGuard, Auto0.

How to delete Microsoft Authenticator from Apple Watch

There are two ways to delete the app from your watch once it becomes useless, one using your watch, the other using your iPhone.

Follow these steps to delete an app on your watch:

  • Press the Digital Crown to see your apps.
  • Touch and hold the display until View options they appear when you tap Change apps.
  • Tap the Delete button for Authenticator, then tap Delete to confirm deletion.
  • Press the Digital Crown once you’ve deleted the app.

To delete the app on your iPhone, open Watch>My Watch and scroll down the page to find Authenticator, tap it and turn it off Show app on Apple Watch.

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