Critical need to secure the competitiveness of Decentralized ID
By Ho-Hyeorn Han, Vice-Chair of DID Alliance Korea (Director of Korea PKI Forum)
Recently, Facebook announced the creation of its decentralized identity system by releasing the whitepaper of Libra. Similarly, global IT companies such as Microsoft and IBM or Korean large companies such as SK Telecom or LG Uplus are also developing blockchain-based Decentralized ID system. In brief, the fact that leading tech companies work on this infrastructure heralds a new era of identity system based on the Decentralized Identity technology.
In the digital world, identification system is the most important underlying technology. Until now, centralized identification systems have mostly been used for each individual system. Alternatively, federated identification systems, such as single sign-on, were developed as a means to enhance users’ convenience by enabling them to get access to various companies through a unique channel or identifier (e.g. email address). The use of this approach has been highlighted by the development of e-government systems in countries (such as Estonia, Japan, Korea, Norway, and Singapore) that are generally able to preserve a single system.
Furthermore, from a technical point of view, the most unique method is the identification system used in Korea that is based on a certified digital signature. Through this method, it is possible to get access to various companies or multiple systems by performing only one identity verification process. Through a unified and institutionalized identification system for certified digital signature, a unique identifier is shared between counterparts so that users can use it in various systems. This approach is seen as a brilliant use case in other countries. For example, the British government's 2016 report entitled "Distributed Ledger Technology: beyond block chain" suggests that Korea's digital signature system is one of the most efficient use case in the world and that UK should work with Korea to lead the initiative in the field.
Blockchain technology is emerging as an important technology in many industries, but it is still a progressive technology in its effectiveness. Nevertheless, companies and experts around the world commonly agree that the most effective application of the blockchain might be the sharing of identification means. So far, no specific method or framework has been proposed for this as we are just diagnosing the possibilities and looking for the ‘right’ direction. What is clear is that each country or company have the possibility to perform identification process in a standardized and common way, and that the blockchain technology can play a big role as the technology enabling these countries or companies to share the result of this standardized identification process with each other.
The problem is the limitation of blockchain technology. In other words, blockchain itself rejects centralized systems, making it difficult to interoperate with other blockchain systems through a single architecture. As a result, services that need to ensure interoperability between blockchain systems face hurdles. Performing a simple identity verification process is one of these hurdles. Most of the blockchain has different technical configuration, making the cooperation between each platform practically impossible.
This problem can be solved by finding a way to unify the whole world around a blockchain system based on identification. Another solution may consists in gathering and agreeing on minimum requirements and functions to standardize an identification method, ensuring a widespread use. These examples are among the solutions that companies and experts are working on to solve the problem due to the limited interoperability of the blockchain.
One of the most popular examples of technology standardization is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C, an international standards organization, has defined how web documents should be presented, enabling Internet users to use similar web pages with browsers created by different developers. Companies and experts could use this example to spread successfully the standardization of the Decentralized Identity technology. In terms of solutions based on technology, attempts are being made in South Korea to establish an identification system by utilizing blockchain technology. Various companies, including SK Telecom, LG Uplus, Raonsecure and Iconloop, are leading the movement.
Such attempts are positives as various players are working on different innovative technologies in the same time. However, these attempts can only be considered as sorts of “walled garden strategies” that do not take into account user convenience. In order to consider user convenience and to gain innovative competitiveness around the world, the standardization must be discussed first. It is a necessary condition in order to promote the DID technology as the leading ID system in the world. Companies and experts have to start discussing standardization from now.