Microsoft begins work on a decentralised blockchain ID system

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A pilot version of the decentralised open-source blockchain ID system is due for release and testing in 2018.

Each of us needs a digital identity we own, one which securely and privately stores all elements of our digital identity. This self-owned identity must be easy to use and give us complete control over how our identity data is accessed and used.” – Ankur Patel, Microsoft

According to a recent Microsoft blog post, Microsoft has started taking big steps into the world of decentralised open-source blockchain systems – specifically, identity management for everyone. To this end, it has joined ID2020 as a founding member and joined the many other tech companies, cryptocurrencies and partners at the Decentralized Identity Foundation.

“In the coming months, Microsoft, our partners in the ID2020 Alliance, and developers around the globe will collaborate on an open source, self-sovereign, blockchain-based identity system that allows people, products, apps and services to interoperate across blockchains, cloud providers and organisations,” said Peggy Johnson, Microsoft executive vice president of business development. “We will lend the technical expertise of our Identity team to provide guidance as the project scales, empowering people with direct consent over who has access to their personal information, and when to release and share data. We will also help establish standards that ensure this work is impactful and scalable.

“Our shared ambition with ID2020 is to start piloting this solution in the coming year to bring it to those who need it most, beginning with refugee populations. Amid a growing refugee crisis, we believe technology can play a powerful role when put in the hands of displaced people and the organizations that are supporting them.”

The project is called Decentralized ID (DID).

Similar initiatives have already begun elsewhere, with organisations such as the IOTA Foundation (also a member of the Decentralized Identity Foundation) already testing blockchain/tangle applications through a partnership with Refunite.

Blockchain ID through Microsoft Authenticator

Ankur Patel from Microsoft’s identity division explained what kind of shape the project would be taking for end users.

“Rather than grant broad consent to countless apps and services, and have their identity data spread across numerous providers, individuals need a secure encrypted digital hub where they can store their identity data and easily control access to it.

“We will experiment with Decentralized Identities by adding support for them into Microsoft Authenticator. With consent, Microsoft Authenticator will be able to act as your User Agent to manage identity data and cryptographic keys. In this design, only the ID is rooted on chain. Identity data is stored in an off-chain ID Hub (that Microsoft can’t see) encrypted using these cryptographic keys.

“Once we have added this capability, apps and services will be able to interact with user’s data using a common messaging conduit by requesting granular consent. Initially we will support a select group of DID implementations across blockchains and we will likely add more in the future.”

Necessary features

There are seven key features that Microsoft aims to build into the DID system.

  • A way for individuals to control their own identity. This will be achieved through the use of blockchain architecture.
  • Built-in privacy by design. This will be done through the use of secure and encrypted digital hubs that can interact with a user’s data while still allowing them data privacy and control over their information.
  • A reputation and attestation system. This will be a system that lets users provide attestations of others to help people prove facets of their identity. In oversimplified terms, it is a way of putting character references on the blockchain.
  • Ability to run personalised apps for users. This will be a way of letting apps deliver personalised user experiences by just remotely processing the information, rather than actually controlling and storing it for the user.
  • Openness, interoperability and decentralisation. This will be a system that’s built on top of standardised open-source decentralised architecture. This is one of the reasons Microsoft is participating in the Decentralized Identity Foundation and contributing to the development of its systems which will eventually be used for DID.
  • Scalability. Microsoft aims to produce a scalable solution in DID by collaborating on a decentralised second-layer solution that can operate across existing blockchains such as Ethereum, bitcoin or others.
  • User friendliness and accessibility. The aim is to develop a foolproof, user-friendly and all-around accessible experience for everyone.

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