Last year, Yahoo admitted that all 3 billion of its user accounts had been exposed due to a security breach in 2013. As data breaches become more and more common, the issue of how we maintain and validate our identities online becomes a crucial one to solve. Clearly, depending on companies to safeguard massive databases of our personal details is asking for trouble.
This is where the Sovrin Foundation, a private-sector international non-profit, comes in. The solution they’ve developed, the world’s first self-sovereign identity network, could very well revolutionize the way we interact online. Sovrn’s goal, as stated in their recently released whitepaper, is to become the first global utility exclusively for self-sovereign identity and verifiable claims.
“The promise of a global, public identity system that gives every person control over their online identity, and complete confidence in the identities of all counterparties, is finally a reality,” said Sovrin Foundation Chairman Phillip J. Windley, PhD. “Thanks to the development of distributed ledger technology [blockchain], and the powerful performance and privacy capabilities that Sovrin adds to it, this vexing shortcoming of the internet’s foundational architecture is now remedied.”
To understand the importance of and use-case for Sovrin, it’s useful to consider how identity and verifiable claims work in the physical world. Whenever an individual needs to prove a claim about her identity to, say, check out a library book or buy an airline ticket, she can simply open her wallet and present some form of physical credential. This credential, perhaps a passport or a driver’s license, contains claims issued by a trusted authority, which in the language of the identity industry is called the issuer. The credential is then viewed by the “verifier,” which in the case of a physical ID is the human being behind the counter.
This interaction is straightforward in the physical world. However, it becomes more complicated when individuals have to prove a claim about their identity online. “Where,” asks the Sovrin whitepaper, “is the digital equivalent of a passport?” So far, there is no such thing. Instead, proving claims about our identity online has turned into keeping track of hundreds of individual passwords and usernames and trusting Yahoo and others to keep the personal information they are attached to secure. This has, clearly, not gone well.
Is there another way? Sovrin believes so, and they’re already designing it. How Sovrin came to this position is both interesting and enlightening. It began with a startup called Evernym, founded in 2015, looking to blockchain as a possible solution to the basic trust problem inherent in online identity claims. A public blockchain is, by design, a decentralized, owner-less locus of trust that everyone can use. Evernym started creating a blockchain, which they named Sovrin, to become that locus of trust for individual identity claims.
Evernym soon decided, however, that for such an identity-verifying system to work, it would have to be truly as public and universal as the internet itself. The creation of such a global public utility would require effort from the greater community. To that end, in 2016 the Sovrin Foundation was created. This international non-profit foundation has a board of twelve trustees and an additional Technical Governance Board to oversee the philosophical and practical aspects of developing this new blockchain. Next, in 2017, the Sovrin Foundation transferred the code that Evernym has begun developing to the Linux Foundation as open source code. Finally, after much development and testing, the Sovrin Network was launched on July 31st, 2017.
How exactly the Sovrin Network has been designed for universal broad adoption and easy scalability is beyond the scope of this article, but greater detail can be found through their website. The potential impact of widespread adoption, however, is deeply exciting. It has the potential to truly redefine online security, adding a real layer of identity protection and privacy to how we interact and transact on the internet.
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