460degrees 18 Mar. 2024

Digital Trust

Importance of Trust and Verifiable Credentials in the Digital Age

Importance of Trust and Verifiable Credentials in Digital Age

Fake Medicare cards, forged tax returns, counterfeit PhDs and a black market in covid vaccine certificates. While most of us will quite happily email a requesting government organisation a quick snap of our driver’s license or a passport, we rarely consider how easily that information might be intercepted and/or misused. And so we’ve created a paradox; it has never been this convenient, nor this difficult, to prove who we are.

Over the last year I’ve taken a keen interest in Verifiable Credentials and have come to the conclusion that the way we address identity and ownership of one’s data needs an overhaul. We’re gathering and sharing sensitive and personal information at unprecedented volumes. And unfortunately, with that comes a similar increase in forgery.

Yes, digitisation has made processing of these incredibly large volumes of personal data much simpler, quicker and a lot easier. But the chink in the armour is the lack of a system that knows a fake when it sees it, which leaves organisations vulnerable to risk of both financial and non-financial damage.

But there’s a beacon of hope. The answer may already exist in the form of Verifiable Credentials (VCs).

VCs are a digital, cryptographically secured version of a user’s credentials, allowing for secure, instant processing. Because it’s digitally signed and verified among Issuer, holder and verifier, even if a user prints a credential on paper, it is only valid for use for a limited amount of time, reducing the risk of future forgery.

Safe and easy to use, you might think of VCs as a digital wallet containing pre-verified digital copies of your important documents and identifications. And the benefits are obvious:

  • They can be cryptographically signed to establish their authenticity and tamper-proof nature.
  • They enhance trust, privacy, and security through a decentralised, interoperable, and user-centric approach to identity and data verification.
  • The ‘wallet’ being owned by the user, can only be accessed using their own biometric authentication, putting them back in control of their personal data.

Allowing individuals to collect, store, and manage their own personal information and achievements means users can decide when and with whom they want to share specific pieces of information without relying on central authorities or intermediaries. The cryptography used during verification also helps preventing call home mechanisms ensuring issuers are not implicated directly.

As it stands, governments currently focus on mitigation; punishing people who steal and forge identities by enacting laws and regulations related to identity protection and integrity. But when the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions is reporting figures such as 3,000 charges related to fraudulent conduct under the Commonwealth Criminal Code (over 2017-2018), it become clear that a renewed focus on prevention is more critical than ever. And VCs are, in my opinion the ounce of prevention that beats out the punitive ‘cure’ every time.

As more and more transactions happen online, the ability to build and maintain trust, specifically digital trust, is becoming more and more essential to our daily lives. Implementing VCs would be a great way to build that trust, reduce friction, mitigate risk and improve user experience for all parties involved. In an increasingly interconnected world, VCS are not just a technological innovation, but a fundamental change that can protect our identities and make our digital society more resilient.

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