Summary: Decentralized identifiers are one of the foundational ideas for supporting self-sovereign identity. This post describes how decentralized identifiers work.
Decentralized identifiers are one of several foundational technologies for building a metasystem for self-sovereign identity. I wrote about verifiable credentials and their exchange previously. Just like the Web required not only URLs, but also a specification for web page formats and how web pages could be formatted, self-sovereign identity needs DIDs, a protocol for creating DID-based relationships, and a specification and protocol for verifiable credential exchange.
Identifiers label things. Computer systems are full of identifiers. Variable names are identifiers. Usernames are identifiers. Filenames are identifiers. IP numbers are identifiers. Domain names are identifiers. Email addresses are identifiers. URLs are identifiers.1 Any time we use a unique (within some context) string to label something for quick reference, we're giving it an identifier. A computer system uses identifiers to correlate all
Summary: In this post, I make a case that Sovrin not only conforms to Kim Cameron's Seven Laws of Identity, but constitutes the identity metasystem he envisioned in 2004.
In 2005, Microsoft's Chief Identity Architect, Kim Cameron wrote an influential paper called The Laws of Identity (PDF). Kim had been talking about and formulating these laws in 2004 and throughout 2005. It's no coincidence that Internet Identity Workshop got started in 2005. Many people were talking about user-centric identity and developing ideas about how we might be able to create an identity layer for the Internet. Fifteen years later, we're still at it, but getting closer and closer all the time.
The Internet was created without any way to identify the people who used it. The Internet was a network of machines. Consequently, all the identity in Internet protocols is designed to identify machines and services. People used the Internet
Summary: Verifiable credential exchange is the foundation of decentralized, online identity. This post describes how it works.
I realized last week that I'd never explained verifiable credential exchange as a stand-alone topic—it was always buried in something else.
Multi-source identity (MSI) depends on issuing, exchanging, and verifying digital credentials. The specification for verifiable credentials is being formulated by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Verifiable Credentials Working Group. Verifiable credentials provide a standard way to express credentials in a way that is cryptographically secure, privacy respecting, and automatically verifiable.
Credentials are defined by their issuer in a credential definition. The credential definition links the public decentralized identifier (DID) of the issuer, the schema for the credential, and a revocation registry for the credential. The definition, public DID, schema, and revocation registry are all stored on a distributed ledger that is used for decentralized discovery. (See What Goes on the Ledger (PDF)
Summary: Sovrin is more than a ledger and its claim to being a decentralized identity system rests on more than that. Sovrin comprises three layers, each of which promotes and strengthens decentralization and self-sovereign identity. This post discusses each layer and the decentralized features that underpin it.
Decentralized architectures require that care is taken in each component or layer to ensure that the resulting system will not contain hidden weaknesses. That doesn't just apply to the system itself, but also to the ways it is governed. And all decentralized systems are governed. The governing might be ad hoc or hidden, but it's there.
I've written a lot about distributed ledgers, Sovrin, governance, and decentralization over the past several years. Here's a partial list:
Summary: Self-sovereign identity is multi-source, but not all multi-source identity systems are self-sovereign. Self-sovereignty requires that people and organizations have control of their credentials and interact as peers.
The world is full of credentials. Some, like a driving license, an employee ID card, a passport, or a university diploma are widely recognized as such. But many other things are also credentials: a store receipt, a boarding pass, or a credit score, for example. Credentials, designed properly, allow verifiable data to be employed in workflows without centralized hubs, point-to-point integrations, or real-time communication between the various players. Credentials enable decentralized, asynchronous workflows.
Summary: The real world is messy and unpredictable. Creating an identity system that is flexible enough to support the various ad hoc scenarios that the world presents us with can only be done using a decentralized system like Sovrin that allows multiple credentials from various authorities to be shared in the ways the scenario demands.
Recently Joe Andrieu gave a presentation about the role of multiple assertions in a real-life situation—an automobile accident. As I listened, I thought it was an excellent example because it showed clearly the power of being able to bring multiple, independent credentials to
Summary: This article describes the role that the Sovrin Foundation and associated groups play in governing, operating, and using the Sovrin Network. The Sovrin Network is designed and intended to be decentralized so understanding the key influence points and community groups is important.
The Sovrin Network is a global public utility for identity that we all own, collectively, just like we all own the Internet.
When I say Sovrin is "public," I mean that it is a public good that anyone can use so long as they adhere to the proper protocols, just like the Internet. Sovrin is created through the cooperation of many people and organizations. Enabling that cooperation requires more than luck. In Coherence and Decentralized Systems, I wrote:
Public spaces require coherence. Coherence in Sovrin springs from the ledger, the protocols, the trust framework, standards, and market incentives.
Summary: I spent almost two weeks talking with people about self-sovereign identity in Switzerland and India. I'm more excouraged than ever that self-sovereign identity holds the key to real change in how we live our digital lives with security, privacy, and dignity.
I'm just finishing up my travel to Switzerland and India to talk about self-sovereign identity. The trip was amazing and full of interesting and important conversatons.
The TechCrunch event in Zug was very good. I was skeptical of a one-day conference with so much happening in a short time, but thanks to great preparation by those running the show and all the participants, it exceeded my expectations in every way. I spoke on a panel with Sam Cassatt of and Guy Zyskind from Enigma. Samantha Rosestein was the moderator.
Summary: In July I'll be circling the globe to talk about self-sovereign identity and learn about how others are approaching and using it.
The first half of July I'm going to be on the road speaking about self-sovereign identity in Switzerland and at two events in India. This is my first time in Switzerland and India, so I'm looking forward to the trip and meeting lots of interesting people.
The event in Zug is the TC Sessions: Blockchain 2018 event on July 6th. I'll be speaking on self-sovereign identity in an afternoon session.
Summary: Multi-source identity systems like Sovrin enabled richer digital identity transactions that mirror the decentralized, ad hoc nature of identity in the physical world.
In the physical world, people collect and manage identity credentials1 from various sources including governments, financial institutions, schools, businesses, family, colleagues, and friends. They also assert information themselves. These various credentials serve different purposes. People collect them and present them in various contexts. When presented, the credential verifier is free to determine whether to trust the credential or not.
Online, identity doesn't work that way. Online identity has traditionally been single-source and built for specific purposes. Online, various, so-called "identity providers" authenticate people using usernames and passwords and provide a fixed, usually limited set of attributes about the subject of the identity transaction. The identity information from these systems is usually used within a specific, limited context. Social login allows it to be used across Continue reading "Multi-Source Identity"
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.
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"
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.
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,
Power of the People is a great grabber of a headline, at least for me. But it’s a pitch for a report that requires filling out the form here on the right:
You see a lot of these: invitations to put one’s digital ass on mailing list, just to get a report that should have been public in the first place, but isn’t so personal data can be harvested and sold or given away to God knows who.
And you do more than just “agree to join” a mailing list. You are now what marketers call a “qualified lead” for countless other parties you’re sure to be hearing from.
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.
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"
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.
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"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
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 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.