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INTERVIEW: Covid-19 lockdowns bring to fore need for reliable digital identity

INTERVIEW: Covid-19 lockdowns bring to fore need for reliable digital identity Georg Greve

SOFIA (Bulgaria), May 27(SeeNews) – The coronavirus outbreak has changed profoundly consumer habits, highlighting the need for a reliable digital identity, senior officials at Vereign, a Swiss startup developing self-sovereign digital identity solutions with a Sofia-based team of engineers, told SeeNews.

Digital identities are the cornerstone on which people’s entire digital life rests, and yet people have been putting too much blind trust into their interactions, Gеorg Greve, chairman of Vereign, and product manager Kalin Canov told SeeNews in a joint interview via email.

“Our identity identifies us in interactions. It is created by interaction and defines us toward the world around us. Who does something is just as important as what is being done," Greve said. "Without identity there is no business as there is no contract, no partnership, no marketing, no financial transactions of any kind.”

For his part, Canov said that since the Covid-19 lockdown, people started to understand the needs and benefits of synchronisation between the physical and the digital world. “In fact, there is no such separation. We are what we are, and with all the interactions we have, we make everything real and part of our life including the digital side of our interactions.”

However, people are often unaware that most identities are centralised and owned by the companies that have built the solution, “a version of digital feudalism” in Greve’s words.

“Our identity is not our own, but we are owned by some company which can monetize our personal data and identity in a vast number of ways, typically without our knowledge,” he explained. "Owning other people’s identities is an enormously profitable business, these companies are among the largest in the world, with huge legal departments."

Furthermore, faced with the need to maintain hundreds of passwords, most people use only a small number of them, increasing the risks of data leaks and identity theft, Greve said. He quoted figures, according to which cybercrime is expected to cost the world $6 trillion (5.46 trillion euro) yearly by 2021, making it more lucrative than the global illegal drug trade.

To address this problem, Vereign has created a decentralised self-sovereign digital identity solution hosted on IBM POWER9 servers. The solution, based on blockchain, focuses on the aggregated identity of the user and allows users to verify authenticity across the web while keeping full control when sharing sensitive personal data. It is available to 3.7 billion daily users worldwide, as organisations can access from the cloud or on-premises.

“On average, business users today have 190 online identities, often protected only by re-used passwords of mediocre strength, and no idea what happens with these identities. If an identity is compromised or stolen, they only learn about it far too late – if at all”, explains Greve. “In our solution each action of the identity is recorded and secured by blockchain so an attacker cannot hide, and users can take the appropriate steps to protect themselves”.

Hosted on IBM POWER9 servers located in Switzerland, the platform is based on open source and open standards, making it fully auditable with no hidden management engines. As security is key for identity solutions, the solution relies on the security built in at every layer of the IBM POWER9 processor. Data encryption is being used all across.

“In combination with OpenPOWER as the most open, secure hardware architecture we’ve taken a lot of design decisions to secure our users today – and in the future,” Greve says. “That includes eliminating passwords thanks to a fully key based authentication and the option to use Vereign as a sign-in for other services as well as integration into email and document signing. A Self-Sovereign Identity truly belongs to the company or person. It is fully under your control and answers only to you. You decide how to use it, with whom, and what data to share in the process. At the technical level that typically means the identity is protected by several layers of encryption and can be accessed only on your devices, especially your mobile phone," Greve concluded.

Self-Sovereign Identities then allow equitable and fair interaction between people in a direct way that is decentralised and often peer to peer, he added.

The process from development, to quality assurance and then deployment in Vereign's infrastructure is led by the company's team of technical engineers in Bulgaria, which the company is looking to expand.

"We know that we will need help, and we are working actively to extend the team with the right people. In that regard, last year we had a student programme where people who are still in university had a chance to join the team and do some real work," Canov said. "We also want to extend the network of contributors who are interested in what we do, and we now want to structure and automate as much as we can in this project, so anyone who is interested can easily jump on board."

(1 euro = 1.0998 U.S. dollars)