Self-Sovereign Identity: Blockchain’s Real Killer Application?

The Killer-DApp?

We have talked about the advantages of the self-sovereign identity before. Blockchain technology is ideal for identity solutions. Decentralizing identity management empowers the individual by returning control over a subject’s own identity to the user. Also, it is much more secure than relying on centralized identity providers, in the form of authorization services, password or key management systems. In this article, we discuss how identity is the basis for almost any blockchain application currently being considered and comment on the latest developments in identity standardization.

We have heard a lot of arguments in favor of blockchain technology revolutionizing almost every industry. Most of these uses cases are very promising. However, identity management is a special case, as it is an enabler for nearly every other use case out there. Have you heard about blockchain in healthcare, blockchain for the Internet of Things, online voting, investment, supply chain management, or food tracking? Well, the truth of the matter is, identity management is central to all these applications. If we can universally solve identity management, all these other applications can be solved as well.

identity solutions
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Image credit: TheDigitalWay/Pixabay

You cannot do online voting without checking the identity and eligibility of voters. You also need to prove your identity to gain access to your health data and not someone else’s. Even IoT devices must be identified if we want to make sure we are talking to the right device. As a freebie, we even get data integrity verification thrown in for free. If data sources sign the data they provide with their self-sovereign identity, we can verify that data has not been manipulated.

The services mentioned above already require identity solutions. They usually do this in a centralized way. The self-sovereign identity merely returns control over this process to the user.

The Importance of Standards

As with all new technology, at first, there is some trial and error. Different start-ups define their protocols and interfaces and may even change them repeatedly. However, there comes a time when technology needs to settle down and find standard interfaces. For the self-sovereign identity to be useful, we need to settle on an interoperable way of accessing these identities.

In the Ethereum ecosystem, the ERC-725 standard proposal has been around for a while. Also, blockchain identity start-up uPort has come up with their proposal, ERC-1056 Lightweight Identity. Interestingly, this standard proposal complies with the W3C Verifiable Claims Working Group’s proposal for Decentralized Identifiers.  This widens the standardization effort beyond the Ethereum ecosystem. uPort’s solution is also compatible with the JSON Web Tokens, am IETF standard.

Apart from standard compliance, identity solutions should be privacy-preserving. The mere capability of identifying yourself should not mean you have to give up privacy. On the contrary, well-designed blockchain-based identity solutions give full control to the user over his private data. There is no need for any personally identifying information to be stored on the blockchain at all.

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Dr. Stefan Beyer
Dr. Stefan Beyer is editor-at-large at BlockTelegraph and a Blockchain consultant and smart contract auditor. He graduated from the University of Manchester in 2001 with a degree in Computer Science and obtained a Ph.D. in 2004 from the same university with the title “Dynamic Configuration of Embedded Operating Systems”. Since then he has worked in computer science research in distributed systems, fault tolerance, ubiquitous computing and cyber security. He is currently working as head of research and development for a medium-sized cyber security company in Spain.

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