It’s in our DNA, kind of…
The one thing that we all have in common is that we are all different. Unique. Every living organism can be summarised as ‘organized entropy’. 3.8 billion years ago in our chaotic universe, biological compounds combined in abiogenesis, giving rise to living organisms that evolve through mutations. These mutations mean that by definition every single organism on Earth is different. Even single-celled organisms that reproduce through asexual means are subject to their environment and entropy of the universe, yielding miniscule differences between one another. What this means for incredibly complex multicellular organisms, such as humans, is that every single portion of our bodies is by default slightly different from everyone else’s. Even identical twins who share the same DNA are still subject to slight differences in the womb (epigenetics) which results in unique physical traits. The measurement of these unique traits is what we call ‘biometrics’. ‘Bio’ means life and ‘metric’ means measurement. Literally life-measurement.Read More »
The emergence of Token Based Authentication brought the World Wide Web one step closer towards a more convenient and consistent user experience across a variety of service providers. By dynamically generating a token, a user is be able to login with a pre-defined identity on a new service-provider. All this without ever sharing this information with the service provider or having to fill-out a tedious sign-up form.
Today, nearly all of the popular social networks allow Token Based Authentication (the standard is JWT – JSON Web Token). Probably many people here have used Facebook Connect or OAuth for logging into a new website conveniently with an existing identity and saved filling out another annoying Sign Up form in the process. An interesting example is shown below: Would you rather fill out the Sign in form on the right or simply click a button on the left and gain instant access to the service provider?
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One of the most renown attempts to create an identity management system was Windows Cardspace1. An excerpt from its whitepaper “the identity metasystem is an interoperable architecture for digital identity that assumes people will have several digital identities based on multiple underlying technologies, implementations, and providers. It lets users select from among a portfolio of their digital identities and use them at Internet services of their choice”. The goal of Cardspace was it to be the go-to solution for people to manage their digital identities. Through an agnostic protocol, that allowed for a secure communication through other technologies (such as LDAP, X.509, SAML and Kerberos), the identity owner could easily access the service provider with a predefined identity and thus be in control of what information gets shared.
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Standardization is a unique mechanism to both ensure and enforce compatibility, interoperability, security and a similar (qualitative) user experience across different service providers. This standardization together with rules is the basics of protocols that we use every day on the internet, which enable a frictionless communication between us and the server we are trying to access.
Such standardization does not exist with identity today and it’s up to the service provider to dictate the requirements for creating an identity. They ultimately decide what data needs to be submitted, how the data is managed, secured and stored. Because of this, digital identity is fragmented, impractical, restrictive and limited in scope and availability. Exactly this opens up huge problems and causes the privacy intrusions and identity thefts we have today. Successful protocols for the identification of two parties, such as the Kerberos protocol, X.509 certificates or the Web of Trust model in PGP, exist today, but they are limited in their ability to provide a true identity system which includes enrollment, identification, authentication, authorization and general identity management.
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The Internet consists of a complex, integrated ecosystem of hierarchical layers and technologies that enable the network to function in a unique way, and allow for frictionless data transmission between two parties. Only because of this layered structure and breaking down big problems into smaller sub-problems the Internet was able to overcome technological challenges. Each layer has their own focus and interest groups that focus exclusively on creating the best solution for the layers respective problems. A quick overview of the Internet’s layer (from bottom to top):
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A Treatise on Identity
Who are you? You are a member of a nation, a community and a family. You are a son or a daughter, perhaps a father or a mother. You are a professional, the fuel for the economic combustion engine. You engage in social activities with friends and family, perhaps you are part of a club or organization that shares similar interests. You like sharing, blogging and tweeting, you express your thoughts and share your most precious moments on social media with those closest to you. In this very moment you represent a 32-bit IP address in a huge cluster of other global identifiers.
As an individual, you are an entity of identities. You represent identities and change them regularly, depending on the situation you are in. Similarly to an actor, you are constantly and regularly changing your masks to fit the current act of the play. Your identity is associated with the moment, in which you represent someone uniquely identified, pseudonymously or anonymously. Your identity is for example associated with being customer at a bank, an employee at a company, a member of a club or pseudonym on a forum. The identities you possess are endless and any interaction, whether with another individual or with a company, require different identities. Therefore, who you are is dependant on the situation you are in and who you want to represent.Read More »