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In an era where you can fund art through Patreon and bills through GoFundMe, pay rent on Venmo, and use your Facebook login to access work applications, why is the driver’s license still a piece of physical plastic? Why is the passport still a book, the diploma still a piece of paper?
Because they’re too important. IDs, diplomas, social security numbers, and the like are considered verifiable credentials. They are managed by a central authority such as the DMV or a university. Most ensure the basic rights of citizenship. Digitization is not to be taken lightly, especially given that the identities of up to 33 million Americans have already been stolen in data breaches.
Physical documents, with their holograms and RFIDs, are in theory less accessible. Yet these documents also become insecure when exposed to digital infrastructure. The minute a lender asks you to send over a picture of your driver’s license, or a bank asks to verify your identity with your social security number, your data is exposed to the insecurities of whatever system the recipient uses.
Only when verifiable credentials move beyond the need for a central authority will a new era of online trust, efficacy, and even privacy dawn.
As mentioned in my previous article, the trouble with centralization is that data is stored in a database. Once breached, a database can yield a treasure chest of information to be sold on the dark web. This costs victims dearly. In the US, the average organization pays $8.19M per data breach. Identity theft increased by 46.4% between 2018-19. Subjecting verifiable credentials to the same system would be a recipe for even more breaches.
The good news is that digitization does not always require databases. Blockchains can replace databases in some cases, including verifiable credentials (though a public blockchain, with all information visible to everyone on a ledger, may not be a good idea). What’s most important for driver’s licenses, diplomas, etc. is that an authoritative agency or institution issues them, otherwise, a diploma from a mill is as good as one from Harvard. This issuing authority, however, does not need its powers of verification centralized in one place. Verifiable Credentials and Decentralized Identifiers can digitize the verification process with less risk to security than a paper or plastic document.
Verifiable credentials are the result of a W3C effort to standardize provable identities across a variety of use identity cases (transcripts, mortgages, licenses/passports, and many more scenarios.) A DID (Decentralized Identifier) acts as a unique identifier and refers to a DID document, which contains information about an identity. VCs are then used to store and represent machine-readable credentials that are tied to that cryptographic identity.
Chances are, you’re already using a decentralized process to verify security on the everyday internet. Websites use an SSL certificate that lights up with a little green lock. Email providers verify identities through spam filters. Yet phishing proves that filters are less than foolproof, and SSL is prone to injection.
Driver’s licenses, passports and other verifiable credentials require more than what a browser can offer. A decentralized identifier (DID) provides that extra layer of security. It is a form of cryptography that can be accomplished by a phone app, a blockchain, a file system, on AWS, in a web browser, or even on a thumb drive.
DIDs use cryptography and public keys to bypass the need for a central authority. Take a driver’s license as an example. Instead of printing out a hologram, images, and data on a plastic card, the DMV publishes authoritative attributes or schemas. For a driver’s license, this means cryptographic codes that can be unlocked to reveal the state, expiration date, etc. These attributes are then stored in a decentralized registry by the person whose identity is on the driver’s license. Every time someone needs to verify a driver’s license, its attributes are cryptographically verifiable through public keys.
Unlike paper IDs, citizens can retain their privacy while proving only the relevant parts of their identity in a digital format. If date of birth is the only important factor for getting into a bar, that’s all your driver’s license (as a verifiable credential) will show. The person wishing to verify the authenticity of your date of birth will use software that can run the right mathematical proof to point back to the DID’s origin. Your credential is verified, the bar is satisfied, and you have only revealed as much as you want to.
With global data flowing between endless SaaS apps and APIs, online security has become something of an oxymoron. Data laws such as GDPR and California’s CCPA are catching up, and forcing online providers–which is almost everyone these days–to take data security seriously. Complying with GDPR costs the average business between $100,000-$500,000, an untenable expense for many of the small businesses that are the engine of the US economy, or those who run on thin margins. Verifiable credentials and DIDs, because they scale easily, are a much more cost-effective solution.
The overcomplicated internet has led to an epidemic of fraud in general, from ID theft to counterfeits. Organizational networks with many moving parts, such as supply chains, easily lose track of every piece, opening up easy opportunities for malfeasance.
To track the movement of a single toy through an international supply chain, for example, you would either have to integrate multiple countries’ suppliers’ and customs software to work together–good luck–or find a new way. If every supplier on the chain adds their verifiable credential to a blockchain, full traceability would happen, and things like shipment fast lanes and pre-approvals could become a reality.
Another example involves diplomas. Community colleges reliably feed second-year students to universities, where those students then graduate. Yet the community colleges, many of which are funded based on the number of graduates, do not get credit for university graduates. If transcripts and diplomas are transformed into DIDs, then college administrators can easily see which students matriculated and graduated from university, and gain retroactive credit for funding.
From permanent resident cards to anonymous payments to automatic notarization, verifiable credentials, and DIDs are a technology whose time has arrived. Use cases are currently being piloted; many will surface in the coming months and years. Security on the internet as we know it may be broken, but it is not beyond saving. A touch of the cryptographic wand, and we’ll be able to repair trust once more.
This post by Brian Platz of Fluree originally appeared in Hackernoon
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Partner, Analytic Strategy Partners; Frederick H. Rawson Professor in Medicine and Computer Science, University of Chicago and Chief of the Section of Biomedical Data Science in the Department of Medicine
Robert Grossman has been working in the field of data science, machine learning, big data, and distributed computing for over 25 years. He is a faculty member at the University of Chicago, where he is the Jim and Karen Frank Director of the Center for Translational Data Science. He is the Principal Investigator for the Genomic Data Commons, one of the largest collections of harmonized cancer genomics data in the world.
He founded Analytic Strategy Partners in 2016, which helps companies develop analytic strategies, improve their analytic operations, and evaluate potential analytic acquisitions and opportunities. From 2002-2015, he was the Founder and Managing Partner of Open Data Group (now ModelOp), which was one of the pioneers scaling predictive analytics to large datasets and helping companies develop and deploy innovative analytic solutions. From 1996 to 2001, he was the Founder and CEO of Magnify, which is now part of Lexis-Nexis (RELX Group) and provides predictive analytics solutions to the insurance industry.
Robert is also the Chair of the Open Commons Consortium (OCC), which is a not-for-profit that manages and operates cloud computing infrastructure to support scientific, medical, health care and environmental research.
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Founder, DataStraits Inc., Chief Revenue Officer, 3i Infotech Ltd
Sudeep Nadkarni has decades of experience in scaling managed services and hi-tech product firms. He has driven several new ventures and corporate turnarounds resulting in one IPO and three $1B+ exits. VC/PE firms have entrusted Sudeep with key executive roles that include entering new opportunity areas, leading global sales, scaling operations & post-merger integrations.
Sudeep has broad international experience having worked, lived, and led firms operating in US, UK, Middle East, Asia & Africa. He is passionate about bringing innovative business products to market that leverage web 3.0 technologies and have embedded governance risk and compliance.
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CEO, Data4Real LLC
Julia Bardmesser is a technology, architecture and data strategy executive, board member and advisor. In addition to her role as CEO of Data4Real LLC, she currently serves as Chair of Technology Advisory Council, Women Leaders In Data & AI (WLDA). She is a recognized thought leader in data driven digital transformation with over 30 years of experience in building technology and business capabilities that enable business growth, innovation, and agility. Julia has led transformational initiatives in many financial services companies such as Voya Financial, Deutsche Bank Citi, FINRA, Freddie Mac, and others.
Julia is a much sought-after speaker and mentor in the industry, and she has received recognition across the industry for her significant contributions. She has been named to engatica 2023 list of World’s Top 200 Business and Technology Innovators; received 2022 WLDA Changemaker in AI award; has been named to CDO Magazine’s List of Global Data Power Wdomen three years in the row (2020-2022); named Top 150 Business Transformation Leader by Constellation Research in 2019; and recognized as the Best Data Management Practitioner by A-Team Data Management Insight in 2017.
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Senior Advisor, Board Member, Strategic Investor
After nine years leading the rescue and turnaround of Banco del Progreso in the Dominican Republic culminating with its acquisition by Scotiabank (for a 2.7x book value multiple), Mark focuses on advisory relationships and Boards of Directors where he brings the breadth of his prior consulting and banking/payments experience.
In 2018, Mark founded Alberdi Advisory Corporation where he is engaged in advisory services for the biotechnology, technology, distribution, and financial services industries. Mark enjoys working with founders of successful businesses as well as start-ups and VC; he serves on several Boards of Directors and Advisory Boards including MPX – Marco Polo Exchange – providing world-class systems and support to interconnect Broker-Dealers and Family Offices around the world and Fluree – focusing on web3 and blockchain. He is actively engaged in strategic advisory with the founder and Executive Committee of the Biotechnology Institute of Spain with over 50 patents and sales of its world-class regenerative therapies in more than 30 countries.
Prior work experience includes leadership positions with MasterCard, IBM/PwC, Kearney, BBVA and Citibank. Mark has worked in over 30 countries – extensively across Europe and the Americas as well as occasional experiences in Asia.
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Chair of the Board, Enterprise Data Management Council
Peter Serenita was one of the first Chief Data Officers (CDOs) in financial services. He was a 28-year veteran of JPMorgan having held several key positions in business and information technology including the role of Chief Data Officer of the Worldwide Securities division. Subsequently, Peter became HSBC’s first Group Chief Data Officer, focusing on establishing a global data organization and capability to improve data consistency across the firm. More recently, Peter was the Enterprise Chief Data Officer for Scotiabank focused on defining and implementing a data management capability to improve data quality.
Peter is currently the Chairman of the Enterprise Data Management Council, a trade organization advancing data management globally across industries. Peter was a member of the inaugural Financial Research Advisory Committee (under the U.S. Department of Treasury) tasked with improving data quality in regulatory submissions to identify systemic risk.
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Pawan came to Fluree via its acquisition of ZettaLabs, an AI based data cleansing and mastering company.His previous experiences include IBM where he was part of the Strategy, Business Development and Operations team at IBM Watson Health’s Provider business. Prior to that Pawan spent 10 years with Thomson Reuters in the UK, US, and the Middle East. During his tenure he held executive positions in Finance, Sales and Corporate Development and Strategy. He is an alumnus of The Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.
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Andrew “Flip” Filipowski is one of the world’s most successful high-tech entrepreneurs, philanthropists and industry visionaries. Mr. Filipowski serves as Co-founder and Co-CEO of Fluree, where he seeks to bring trust, security, and versatility to data.
Mr. Filipowski also serves as co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of SilkRoad Equity, a global private investment firm, as well as the co-founder, of Tally Capital.
Mr. Filipowski was the former COO of Cullinet, the largest software company of the 1980’s. Mr. Filipowski founded and served as Chairman and CEO of PLATINUM technology, where he grew PLATINUM into the 8th largest software company in the world at the time of its sale to Computer Associates for $4 billion – the largest such transaction for a software company at the time. Upside Magazine named Mr. Filipowski one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Information Technology. A recipient of Entrepreneur of the Year Awards from both Ernst & Young and Merrill Lynch, Mr. Filipowski has also been awarded the Young President’s Organization Legacy Award and the Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty award for his work fighting hate on the Internet.
Mr. Filipowski is or has been a founder, director or executive of various companies, including: Fuel 50, Veriblock, MissionMode, Onramp Branding, House of Blues, Blue Rhino Littermaid and dozens of other recognized enterprises.
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Brian is the Co-founder and Co-CEO of Fluree, PBC, a North Carolina-based Public Benefit Corporation.
Platz was an entrepreneur and executive throughout the early internet days and SaaS boom, having founded the popular A-list apart web development community, along with a host of successful SaaS companies. He is now helping companies navigate the complexity of the enterprise data transformation movement.
Previous to establishing Fluree, Brian co-founded SilkRoad Technology which grew to over 2,000 customers and 500 employees in 12 global offices. Brian sits on the board of Fuel50 and Odigia, and is an advisor to Fabric Inc.
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Eliud Polanco is a seasoned data executive with extensive experience in leading global enterprise data transformation and management initiatives. Previous to his current role as President of Fluree, a data collaboration and transformation company, Eliud was formerly the Head of Analytics at Scotiabank, Global Head of Analytics and Big Data at HSBC, head of Anti-Financial Crime Technology Architecture for U.S.DeutscheBank, and Head of Data Innovation at Citi.
In his most recent role as Head of Analytics and Data Standards at Scotiabank, Eliud led a full-spectrum data transformation initiative to implement new tools and technology architecture strategies, both on-premises as well as on Cloud, for ingesting, analyzing, cleansing, and creating consumption ready data assets.
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