Coherence and Decentralized Systems

Summary: Building decentralized systems requires more than defining a few specifications and hoping for the best. In order to thrive, decentralized systems need coherence, the social organization necessary to get otherwise independent actors to cooperate.

Coherence in Chaos

We take the Internet for granted, not realizing that such a global, decentralized system is a rare thing. Protocols, rightly, get credit, but they alone are insufficient. TCP/IP did not create the Internet. The Internet is not just a set of protocols, but rather a real thing. People and organizations created the Internet by hooking real hardware and communication lines together. To understand the importance of this, we need to understand what's necessary to create social systems like the Internet.

Social systems that are enduring, scalable, and generative require coherence among participants. Coherence allows us to manage complexity. Coherence is necessary for any group of people to cooperate. The coherence necessary to create the Internet Continue reading "Coherence and Decentralized Systems"

Building Your Business on Sovrin: Domain-Specific Trust Frameworks

Summary: A domain-specific trust framework is a collection of policies, legal agreements and technologies that provides the context for claims in a given domain. Sovrin Foundation provides a structure and supporting systems for groups defining trust frameworks. This post describes how domain-specific trust frameworks function.

Working in a Framework

In Decentralized Governance in Sovrin, I described how the Sovrin Network is governed. The centerpiece of that discussion is the Sovrin Trust Framework. The trust framework serves as the constitution for Sovrin, laying out the principles upon which Sovrin is governed and the specific requirements for various players in the Sovrin Ecosystem.

In A Universal Trust Framework, I say “a trust framework provides the structure necessary to leap between the known and unknown.” The idea is that online we often lack the necessary context to reduce the risk around the decisions we make. A trust framework defines that context using agreement, process,

Claim Issuing and Presenting
Continue reading "Building Your Business on Sovrin: Domain-Specific Trust Frameworks"

What We Learn about Self-Sovereignty from CryptoKitties

Summary: CryptoKitties are a useful example of digital ownership and self-sovereignty except for one small flaw.

Late last year CryptoKitties burst into the blockchain world. If you haven't been paying attention, CryptoKitties is a Web site that uses a browser-based wallet (MetaMask) to sell (for Ether) little virtual kitties. Once you have a kittie, you can breed it with others, to create new kitties. Each one is a unique individual created with some genetic algorithm. Some Gen 0 or Gen 1 kitties have sold for ridiculous amounts of money. If you were around in the 90's when the Web was taking off, think Beanie Babies meets Blockchain and you'll get the idea1.

Except it's a little more interesting than Beanie Babies ever were because each CryptoKittie is really a non-fungible token on the Ethreum blockchain. This means each kittie has some interesting properties:

Sovrin Foundation Welcomes Nathan George

Summary: Hiring a full time CTO is a big step for the Sovrin Foundation. I'm excited Nathan is joining us.

The Sovrin Foundation is excited to announce that we have hired of Nathan George as our Chief Technology Officer. Nathan was previously Chief Architect at Evernym, Inc. He has been instrumental in maintaining the Hyperledger open-source Project Indy, which is sponsored by the Sovrin Foundation. Nathan comes with a wealth of experience that will help Sovrin thrive and reach its full potential.

I’m very excited to have Nathan join the foundation. The Sovrin Foundation is much more than an advocacy organization for self-sovereign identity. As I wrote in Decentralized Governance in the Sovrin Foundation, the foundation exists to administer the Sovrin Trust Framework and a significant aspect of that entails designing and implementing protocols, managing Project Indy, and supporting the Sovrin Stewards in their operation of the network nodes. These Continue reading "Sovrin Foundation Welcomes Nathan George"

Decentralized Governance in Sovrin

Summary: Decentralized systems require governance to function well. Ideally this governance should be clear, open, and effective without impacting the decentralized nature of the system. This post describes the governance of the Sovrin network. Our approach is a constitutional model based on an agreement we call the Sovrin Trust Framework that informs and guides everything from code development to the responsibilities of the various actors in the system. The Sovrin Trust Framework enables decentralized governance of the Sovrin network.

Marc Hulty defines governance as "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions." From this we can conclude that everything gets governed, the question is whether governance is ad hoc or formal, explicit or implicit.

One of the ironies of decentralized systems is that they require better governance than most centralized Continue reading "Decentralized Governance in Sovrin"

Decentralized Governance

Summary: Decentralized systems require governance to function well. Ideally this governance should be clear, open, and effective without impacting the decentralized nature of the system. This post describes the governance of the Sovrin network. Our approach is a constitutional model based on an agreement we call the Sovrin Turst Framework that informs and guides everything from code development to the responsibilities of the various actors in the system.

Marc Hulty defines governance as "the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions." From this we can conclude that everything gets governed, the question is whether governance is ad hoc or formal, explicit or implicit.

One of the ironies of decentralized systems is that they require better governance than most centralized systems. Centralized systems are often governed in an ad hoc way Continue reading "Decentralized Governance"

Announcing the Sovrin Whitepaper

Summary: The Sovrin whitepaper is now available. Identity in real life is much richer than online identity, flexibly and conveniently solving all kinds of thorny problems. Now with Sovrin, we can bring those rich identity transactions online. This paper shows how that happens and why it will impact every sector of the Internet in significant ways. I hope you'll spend some time reading it.

Sovrin Logo

I'm very pleased to announce that the Sovrin whitepaper is now available. The whitepaper pulls together in one place detailed information about why Sovrin exists, what Sovrin is, and how it will impact nearly every aspect of your online life. Here's the abstract:

Digital identity is one of the oldest and hardest problems on the Internet. There is still no way to use digital credentials to prove our online identity the same way we do in the offline world. This is finally changing. First, the World Continue reading "Announcing the Sovrin Whitepaper"

Secure Pico Channels with DIDs

Summary: Decentralized identifiers are a perfect complement to the event channels in picos and provide the means of performing secure messaging between picos with little effort on the developer's part.

Encryption Flow

Picos are Internet-first actors that are well suited for use in building decentralized soutions on the Internet of Things. See this description of picos for more details.

Picos send an receive messages over channels. Each channel has a non-correlatable identifier, called an ECI. Because picos can have as many channels as they like, you can use them to prevent correlation of the pico's identity without the pico's participation.

When two picos exchange ECIs to create a relationship, we call that a subscription. Wrangler, the pico operating system, supports creating and using subscriptions. Subscriptions allow picos to use peer-to-peer, graph-based interaction patterns. From a given pico's perspective, it has an inbound channel to receive messages (the Rx channel) and an outbound Continue reading "Secure Pico Channels with DIDs"

Fixing the Five Problems of Internet Identity

Summary: Sovrin capitalizes on decades of cryptographic research and the now widespread availability of decentralized ledger technology to rethink identity solutions so that we can have scalable, flexible, private interactions with consent despite the issues that distance introduces.

Credential Exchange

Andy Tobin has a great presentation that describes five problems of Internet identity. Our claim is that self-sovereign identity, and Sovrin in particular, solve these five problems:

The Proximity Problem—The proximity problem is as old as the familiar cartoon with the caption "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." Because we're not interacting with people physically, our traditional means of knowing who we're dealing with are useless. In their place we've substituted username-password-based authentication schemes. The result is that people's identity information is replicated in multiple identity silos around the Internet.

The Scale Problem—Digital identity currently relies on hubs of identity information. We login using Facebook or Google—huge Continue reading "Fixing the Five Problems of Internet Identity"

Is Sovrin Decentralized?

Summary: To determine whether Sovrin is decentralized, we have to ask questions about the purpose of decentralization and how Sovrin supports those purposes.

People sometimes ask "Is Sovrin decentralized?" given that it relies on a permissioned ledger. Of course, the question is raised in an attempt to determine whether or not an identity system based on a permissioned ledger can make a legitimate claim that it's self-sovereign. But whether or not a specific system is decentralized is just shorthand for the real questions. To answer the legitimacy question, we have to examine the reasons for decentralization and whether or not the system in question adequately addresses those reasons.

This excellent article from Vitalik Buterin discusses the meaning of decentralization. Vitalik gives a great breakdown of different types of decentralization, listing architectural decentralization, political decentralization, and logical decentralization.

Of these, logically decentralized systems are the most rare. Bitcoin and other Continue reading "Is Sovrin Decentralized?"

The 10-Year Platform: Shutting Down KRE

Summary: The original pico engine, KRE, is no more. But the ideas and capabilities of the platform live on in the new pico engine.

A few years ago, I announced on this blog that Kynetx was done. But the platform we'd created, the Kynetx Rules Engine, or KRE, lived on. Today I am annoucing that KRE is dead too. We shut it down last week.

Despite the demise of Kynetx, the platform continued to be open and available. Fuse was still running on it and my students were using it for class and research. But Fuse stopped working for good last spring when the MVNO we were using to process cellular data from the car devices shut down. And the new pico engine is working so well that we use it for everything now.

KRE was started in 2007 and envisioned as a cloud-based programming platform for events. While we Continue reading "The 10-Year Platform: Shutting Down KRE"

Equifax and Correlatable Identifiers

Summary: We can avoid security breachs that result in the loss of huge amounts of private data by creating systems that don't rely on correlatable identifiers. Sovrin is built to use non-correlatable identifiers by default while still providing all the necessary functionality we expect from an identity system.

Yesterday word broke that Equifax had suffered a data breach that resulted in 143 million identities being stolen. This is a huge deal, but not really too shocking given the rash of data breaches that have filled the news in recent years.

The typical response when we hear about these security problems is "why was their security so bad?" While I don't know any specifics about Equifax's security, it's likely that their security was pretty good. But the breach still occurred. Why? Because of Sutton's Law. When Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he reputedly said "cause that's where Continue reading "Equifax and Correlatable Identifiers"

Sovrin Self-Sustainability

Summary: For Sovrin to become a global, public utility that helps everyone create and manage self-sovereign identities, it must be independent and self-sustaining. This post outlines four idependence milestones for Sovrin Foundation.

The Sovrin Foundation began life about a year ago. We launched the Sovrin Network just last month. For Sovrin to achieve its goal of providing self-sovereign identity for all, the Foundation and the Network have to be independent and self-sustaining.

The idea for Sovrin-style identity and the technology behind it was developed by Evernym. To their credit, Evernym’s founders, Jason Law and Timothy Ruff, recognized that for their dream of a global identity system to become reality, they’d have to make Sovrin independent of Evernym. At present, Evernym continues to make huge contributions to Sovrin in time, code, money, and people. Our goal is to reduce these contributions, at least as a percentage of the total, over time.

Continue reading "Sovrin Self-Sustainability"

The Case for Decentralized Identity

Summary: We cannot decentralize many interesting systems without also decentralizing the identity systems upon which they rely. We're finally in a position to create truly decentralized systems for digital identity.

I go back and forth between thinking decentralization is inevitable and thinking it's just too hard. Lately, I'm optimistic because I think there's a good answer for one of the sticking points in building decentralized systems: decentralized identity.

Most interesting systems have an identity component. As Joe Andrieu says, "Identity is how we keep track of people and things and, in turn, how they keep track of us." The identity component is responsible for managing the identifiers and attributes that the system needs to function, authenticating the party making a request, and determining whether that party is authorized to make the request. But building an identity system that is usable, secure, maximizes privacy is difficult—much harder than most Continue reading "The Case for Decentralized Identity"

Launching the Sovrin Network

Summary: The Sovrin network for identity is now live and accepting transactions. Sovrin provides a global identity infrastructure that supports self-sovereign identity and verifiable claims. This blog post describes the launch ceremony that we conducted. This is the beginning of Identity for All.

This morning I participated in the launch of the Sovrin Network. About six weeks ago, we set up the Alpha network for testing. Validators participated in exercises to ensure the network was stable and could achieve consensus under a variety of circumstances.

This morning we transitioned from the Alpha network to the Provisional network. There are several important differences between the Alpha network and the Provisional network:

Identity, Sovrin, and the Internet of Things

Summary: Building the Internet of Things securely requires that we look to non-hierarchical models for managing trust. Sovrin provides a Web of Trust model for securing the Internet of Things that increases security and availability while giving device owners more control.
<a href="https://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/">Doc Searls</a> put me onto this report from Cable Labs: <a href="http://www.cablelabs.com/vision-secure-iot/">A Vision for Secure IoT</a>. Not bad stuff as far as it goes. The executive summary states:
IoT therefore represents the next major axis of growth for the Internet. But, without a significant change in how the IoT industry approaches security, this explosion of devices increases the risk to consumers and the Internet. To reduce these risks, the IoT industry and the broader Internet ecosystem must work together to mitigate the risks of insecure devices and ensure future devices are more secure by developing and adopting robust security standards for IoT devices. Industry-led standards represent the most promising approach Continue reading "Identity, Sovrin, and the Internet of Things"

A Mesh for Picos

Summary: This post describes some changes we're making to the pico engine to better support a decentralized mesh for running picos.

Picos are Internet-first actors that are well suited for use in building decentralized soutions on the Internet of Things. Here are a few resources for exploring the idea of picos and our ideas about they enable a decentralized IoT if you’re unfamiliar with the idea:

  • Picos: Persistent Compute Objects—This brief introduction to picos and the components that make up the pico ecosystem is designed to make clear the high-level concepts necessary for understanding picos and how they are programmed. Over the last year, we've been replacing KRE, the engine picos run on, with a new, Node-based engine that is smaller and more flexible.
  • Reactive Programming with Picos—This is an introduction to picos as a method for doing reactive programming. The article contains many links to other, more Continue reading "A Mesh for Picos"

Sovrin Status: Alpha Network Is Live

Summary: The Sovrin Network is live and undergoing testing. This Alpha Stage will allow us to ensure the network is stable and the distributed nodes function as planned. Sunrise
Sovrin is based on a permissioned distributed ledger. Permissioned means that there are known validators that achieve consensus on the distributed ledger. The validators are configured so as to achieve <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_fault_tolerance">Byzantine fault tolerance</a> but because they are known, the network doesn't have to deal with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sybil_attack">Sybil attacks</a>. This has several implications:
  1. The nodes are individually unable to commit transactions, but collectively they work together to create a single record of truth. Individual nodes are run by organizations called "Sovrin Stewards."
  2. Someone or something has to chose and govern the Stewards. In the case of Sovrin, that is the Sovrin Foundation. The nodes are governed according to the Sovrin Trust Framework.
The Sovrin Network has launched in alpha. The purpose of the <!--more--> Network is to allow Founding Stewards to do everything necessary to install and test their validator nodes before we collectively launch the Provisional Network. It’s our chance to do a dry-run to work out any kinks that we may find before the initial launch. 

Here’s what we want to accomplish as part of this test run:
  • Verify technical readiness of the validator nodes
  • Verify security protocols and procedures for the network
  • Test emergency response protocols and procedures
  • Test the distributed, coordinated upgrade of the network
  • Get some experience running the network as a community
  • Work out any kinks and bugs we may find.
With these steps complete, Sovrin will become a technical reality. It’s an exciting step. We currently have nine stewards running validators nodes and expect more to come online over the next few weeks. Because the Alpha Network is for conducting tests, we anticipate that the genesis blocks on the ledger will be reset once the testing is complete. 



Once the Alpha Network has achieved it's goals, it will transition to the Provisional Network. The Sovrin Technical Governance Board (TGB) chose to operate the network in a provisional stage as a beta period where all transactions were real and permanent, but still operating under a limited load. This will enable the development team and Founding Stewards to do performance, load, and security testing against a live network before the Board of Trustees declares it generally availabile.
After many months of planning and working for the network to go live, we're finally on our way. Congratulations and gratitude to the team at Evernym doing the heavy lifting, the Founding Stewards who are leading the way, and the many volunteers who sacrifice their time to build a new reality for online identity.
Photo Credit: Sunrise from dannymoore1973 (CC0 Public Domain) Tags: