Showing posts with label global identity foundation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label global identity foundation. Show all posts

#WhyID ?

We were pleased to be invited to participate in the World Economic Forum workshop last week on Cybercrime 2025 focusing on Digital Identity.

One of the participants presenting were Access Now, who “defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world” [https://www.accessnow.org] who are running a campaign that I’d urge you to add your signature of support for; called #WhyID.

They ask that at the onset of any digital identity programme in any given region or country the #WhyID question must be asked;

Given that our aspiration is a global identity ecosystem, then I guess responding to these questions are even more important for us as an organisation. So here goes;

1. Respond to WhyID?:

     Why do we need these foundational digital identity systems? What are their benefits?

We need foundational digital identity as we live in an increasingly digital world that has little trust, and in a digital world where the majority of entities are based on self-asserted identity.

In short, the benefits, if we do this correctly, are;

o   The move from self-asserted identity and identity attributes, to trusted identities with attributes from truly authoritative sources.

o   The move from identities that operate only within a locus-of-control, to identities that can be reused anywhere, by anyone, globally.

o   The move from identities that need to have a central authority at its heart, to a decentralised, privacy enhancing ecosystem [and one that is NOT blockchain][1].

o   The move from a binary level of trust, to one where the entity taking the risk (remembering that risk is bi-directional, yet asymmetric) is able to understand the risk of every component part.

o   The elimination of billions of dollars of fraud and crime.

o   The elimination of identity theft and impersonation.

o   The ability to understand information from trusted, traceable and reputable sources, vs. un-trusted, self-asserted and fraudulent entities (trolls, sock-puppets, state sponsored misinformation etc.).

o   The ability to leverage global ecosystem for secure and trusted IoT devices and secure and trusted communications.

    Why are such programmes deployed without sufficient evidence of the benefits that they should deliver? How do these programmes plan to reduce the risk to and safeguard the rights and data of users?

We agree; most programs are designed to only fix one particular issue, and are limited in both scope and thus design.
 
In contrast, we started by looking at why Identity systems fail[2], from there developing this understanding of what you need to “do differently” to build a set of principles[3], and from there designing a system[4] to meet those principles.
 
Thus the model builds in privacy by design, ensuring anonymity where needed and places the identity of an individual entity under the full control of said entity, with no intermediate systems or infrastructure that can be compromised.

    Why should it be mandatory – either explicitly or de facto – for users to enrol onto these programmes? These programmes are either mandatory through legislative mandates or through making them a precondition to essential services for users.

We feel it should not; an entity should be able to generate its own root with 100% anonymity, and with total control over that root. Said entity should be able to generate personas (the join of said entity and an entity that is authoritative for one facet of said entities overall identity) only when there is a benefit to said entity [you only need a passport because you want to travel across borders that require passports].
 
Most entities will see the benefit, especially as the use of a common (cryptographic) root [albeit 100% anonymous] allows multiple privacy enhancing assertions to be made from disparate personas as a provably linked set [only the one entity could have made them]. For example: “I am over 21” & “Here is payment for alcohol”.

    Why are these programmes centralised and ubiquitous? Why is one digital identity linked to multiple facets of a citizen’s life?

We see this as one of the fundamental questions; and our stance is that designing a digital identity system in this manner is fundamentally wrong, technically unnecessary and ultimately causes any digital ecosystem to fail or implode.
 
While there a great benefits to having multiple, disparate, trusted attributes all under a central “root” (after all, this is what happens in real-life); you can only make this work if that root is 100% anonymous; the design must also take into account when the entity in question decides their level of trust in the ecosystem is insufficient and allow them to have multiple, unconnected roots.

    Why are countries leapfrogging to digital identity programmes, especially in regions where conventional identity programmes have not worked? The scalability of digital identity programmes also makes their harms scalable.

We believe (based on historical evidence) that identity ecosystems implemented at a national level either fail, implode to a sub-set of services and fail to federate (be trusted) outside of that particular locus-of-control.

Instead, giving away for free, an eco-system and a standard that needs no central infrastructure; which is therefore simple to adopt; where the government or organisation is only responsible for its people and only for those attributes for which it is truly authoritative delivers all the benefits to countries and their citizens without the potential harms that come when such a system is scaled.

     Why are these digital identity programmes not following the security guidance coming out of various expert academic and technical standard-setting bodies on the use of biometrics in identity systems?

We’d go further than this and suggest that any biometric used for authentication should never be stored by any third-party.
 
This does not of course preclude the nefarious collection of biometric information (fingerprint from a glass) or the (legal, or illegal) use of biometric recognition systems (typically facial or gait) linked to surveillance systems.
 
Instead, a digital identity ecosystem must be designed to understand the authentication of the entity to the digital as well as the level of trust it can place in an assertion of biometric authentication (but not validating the raw biometric itself) and in such a manner as to render replay attacks useless.

    Why are some private sector enterprises being privileged with access and ability to access the ID systems and build their private businesses on top of them? What safeguards are being implemented to prevent the misuse of information by the private sector? What should be the role of the private sector in the identity ecosystem?

The driver for most companies is the ability to make money; either from building large identity infrastructure (either traditional or more recently blockchain), in the form of consultancy or through controlling access to attributes.
 
Instead we believe that no big infrastructure is required; and organisations that are authoritative for facets of an entities identity must be able to add the necessary service to their existing systems to be able to sign trusted attributes that can be held, maintained and managed by the entity to which they pertain.
 
In addition, organisations wishing to consume said trusted, authoritative attributes when proffered them by said entity, must be able to add the necessary service to their existing system to accept and validate these.
 
We envisage both add-on's being open-source and royalty free to ensure proper security validation and widespread global take-up.

Those who promote these programmes must first critically evaluate and answer these basic WhyID questions, along with providing evidence of such rationale. In addition to answering these questions, these actors must actively engage and consult all actors. If there is no compelling rationale, evidence-based policy plan, and measures to avoid and repair harms, there should be no digital identity programme rolled out.

2. Evaluate and, if needed, halt: The potential impact on human rights of all existing and potential digital identity programmes must be independently evaluated. They must be checked for necessary safeguards and detailed audit reports must be made public, for scrutiny. If the necessary safeguards are not in place, the digital identity programmes must be halted.

We would agree; (and probably go further) as we believe that
adopting the Identity 3.0 principles[3]
and the associated global ecosystem will both protect human rights and provide greater
benefits for the government and its citizens.

 3.  Moratorium on the collection and use of biometrics (including facial recognition) for authentication purposes: Digital identity programmes should not collect or use biometrics for the authentication of users, until it can be proven that such biometric authentication is completely safe, inclusive, not liable to error, and is the only method of authentication available for the purpose of the programme. The harms from the breach of biometric information is irreparable for users and the ecosystem.

Our belief is that your biometrics (as they relate to authenticating your identity) should be collected, stored and validated under your direct and exclusive control.

Any relying entity wanting to validate the level to which an entity is authenticated should, along with the relevant signed attributes, be able to understand everything about how authentication was achieved (device, version, pass threshold, number of attempts etc.) allowing them to make their own risk assessment of whether that is adequate for them, of course with the option to then use some form of “step-up” authentication should the biometric threshold be inadequate.

This way there can be no collection, and thus no breach, of an entity’s biometric information.

Ten reasons blockchain may not be the solution for a global identity ecosystem!

I’ve lost count about the times that I’ve presented on the problems posed by designing a single, global, identity ecosystem and people come up afterwards and say “so what are you proposing – blockchain?”; to which my standard response is “blockchain may play a part in some aspects of a solution, but it is not THE solution!”.

So, what is behind that assertion?

Vint Cerf on Blockchain
First: the problem as I see it, is "the solution is blockchain - now what's the problem" crowd. Driven partially by VC funding, partially by its proponents trying to find other viable solutions beyond alt-currency and land registry.
Blockchain is just a database – yes, it’s a special kind of database, with some interesting properties around pseudo-privacy and provable immutability, but also with some interesting issues as it’s a public ledger – more on that later.  But the bottom line is that I’m with Vint Cerf on this one as my starting point for a debate.


Second: Blockchain does not pass the "sniff" test for a global identity solution. It does not pass the acid test of "will the Chinese use a US run solution or vice versa". - remember - someone has to own, control, manage and upgrade the model etc. even if its distributed. Global governments want to have a large portion of control of the Identities (or more correctly Identity Attributes) that matter to them, particularly around citizen attributes.

Third: The locus-of-control problem - see Jericho Forum Commandment[i] #8 “Authentication, authorisation and accountability must interoperate / exchange outside of your locus / area of control”. This is the “we can only make it work if we control everything ourselves” – it’s the mentality the security and identity industry has had for over half-a-century, whether it’s “put it all into AD”, “everyone must have my product for it all to interoperate”, or the “we can only make identity work if I run the central database” (look at any government developed identity system).

This is really key, because it goes to trust and risk; how do you trust (or perform a risk calculation on) something you do not manage – and the reality is you generally don’t – you insist on doing your own identity proofing and creating an identity that YOU manage, in your identity system – which is why corporates end up with poorly managed contractors and third parties alongside (reasonably managed) staff identities; or governments end up creating dummy citizen identities so foreign nationals can pay tax.

Fourth: We've already seen the need to fork bitcoin[ii], or Estonia (the poster child for state-mandated ID systems) who found a security problem with its ID cards[iii] - can you imagine needing to do this for 7.5bn people (let alone 20bn+ IoT devices).

Fifth: A truly distributed blockchain cannot handle the growth or transaction rate for 30bn+ (and growing) identities together with all their attributes. Think how many identity transactions need to be carried out on a global scale - unless it’s a private blockchain (but then go back and see the second problem above).

Sixth: Identity and attribute revocation – once it’s on the blockchain, how do you revocate? - a total or binary revocation is often unwanted; example my old passport even if expired (revoked) while I cannot use it for border entry, it is still a government issued document with my photo and (immutable) date-of-birth; depending on the risk-assessment by the entity I assert it to, this may be perfectly adequate for proving my age. Conversely, under GDPR “right to be forgotten”, how can I completely erase any trace of an aspect (or persona) of my identity, when it’s stored on an immutable public ledger?

Seventh: Blockchain, or to give it its full name “public distributed ledger” can have serious problems when it comes to privacy, given its public and distributed nature. Any solution will need to store SPI (sensitive personal information) and while I agree there are technological measures to protect said attributes, often the very existence of an attribute (but not its contents), or a reference to an external organisation or system can lead to inferences being drawn. For example: a reference to a particular ethnic group may result in an entity being arrested, targeted or killed.

Eighth: Blockchain relies on the always-on, or certainly the always-accessible, nature of its design. While there are proposed solutions that allow a currency transaction to take place between two off-line parties that is then later uploaded; the real-time verification of a UK drivers’ licence in the mid-west USA where there is no Internet for miles is a problem yet to be solved (or I suspect, even thought about) in the blockchain world.

Ninth: Most of the blockchain identity solutions rely heavily on PKI to make it secure; the problem for a PKI solution is that within the short-term life-cycle of a global identity ecosystem, quantum computing will likely break PKI as it stands. Therefore, a heavy reliance on PKI may not be an optimal design solution.

Tenth (and finally): Smart contracts are cited by many as the way you make Identity on the blockchain work. I like the David B. Black quote[iv]They’re not smart. They’re not contracts. They’re rife with security issues. And they violate the core principles that are supposed to make blockchain wonderful. Other than that, they’re great!” A smart contract is visible to all users of the blockchain including bugs and security holes and may not be quickly fixed – indeed if fixing the bug requires a fork of the blockchain, once implemented on a global scale it may be impossible to fix.

Conclusion:
I have no doubt that many of these issues can be technically solved, but in solving the problems the solution becomes increasingly complex, convoluted and difficult to understand/implement.

If I have learnt nothing from a long security career, it is that complexity is the enemy of good security. The global identity ecosystem model must be simple if it’s to stand any chance of working, let alone achieving global adoption.

I would commend the Identity 3.0 key principles[v] that we developed to try and get the fundamentals right.

There ARE better solutions, see the work out of the Jericho Forum and the Global Identity Foundation - but it all starts with needing to get your mindset out of trust = a central system that I control.

References and footnotes:

Jericho Forum Commandments Jericho Forum Identity Commandments: https://www.globalidentityfoundation.org/downloads/Identity_30_Principles.pdf

Jericho Forum Identity videos: