Biometric ID gets a security boost from the blockchain

December 14, 2017

In our globally connected world, we have a single, connected society. This society has hit a wall where further development depends on secure trade and certainty of identity. But our current dependence on physical documents as the ultimate source of identity makes verification in the digital world difficult. Fighting identity fraud and enabling secure transactions is a problem that every business and every government needs to solve. This is a trillion-dollar industry, with millions of partially successful solutions.

The Technology of Blockchain is Capable Of

Trust is established in the blockchain because each user has participated in verifying and sharing its data. This ingenious system provides some unique advantages over conventional data storage and sharing systems.

  • Blockchain data keeps a historical record that cannot be edited or hacked.
  • No single entity has to pay for, or be responsible for, secure data storage.
  • Inbuilt security means that the blockchain can exist safely while always being accessible to the public.
  • The distributed nature of a blockchain means there is never any downtime.
  • A blockchain scales automatically as the number of users grow.

These qualities have enabled blockchains to be used for a wide variety of purposes where security is a priority, while granting access to a large number of stakeholders. It is particularly useful where records of transactions or the uniqueness of a digital, item must be provable.

The Value of Identity and How to Manage Trust

Identity fraud is a lucrative growth industry. Many organisations don’t want to risk losing a potential customer. And everyone knows that documents sometimes get lost and destroyed. So businesses always have a level of flexibility when it comes to proving identity. This flexibility enables identity fraud but disabling it is important because our society depends on identity trust.

Businesses depend on identity when assessing the qualifications of a candidate. Governments depend on identity for deciding who is safe to let into their country. Even online communities are dependent on identity for proving intellectual property rights.

As governments seek efficiency to reduce costs, their processes are moved from physical documents into the digital world. Establishing a single repository for all electronic identities would significantly streamline these processes, but security concerns must be met.

Applying the Benefits of Blockchain Technology to Identity Management

Private access blockchains use the same technology as public blockchains, but only allow authorised users such as internal servers to mine for new blocks, or perform transactions. This is often the preference of large establishments which prioritise privacy over the added security that more users, and a greater number of blocks, provide.

Because private access blockchains do not benefit from a vast number of independent users verifying the calculations, adding extra blocks, and sharing identical files, they lack the robust security demanded by blockchain identity with biometrics. This and the lack of public participation, coupled with the threat of government manipulation, is likely to make proposals for private access blockchain identities unpopular.

Extending permission to mine for new blocks, to corporate service providers or other bodies within the establishment, is a possible compromise. This would significantly increase the number of users, and enable calculation costs to be covered by private industry profits. Reducing this entry cost for developing nations will enable broader and faster adoption.

Identity Blockchain with a Biometric Boost

Including biometric data into each record will significantly increase the usefulness of electronic identities. This is because biometric data can be considered a digital equivalent of a physical person. Unlike a normal document that can be printed and shown to anyone, a document containing biometric data can only be used by the person whose physical characteristics match that document.

Businesses are moving away from physical records because of their fragility, difficulty in sharing, lack of incorporation into automated systems, and storage costs. Physical records of identity pose all of the same problems. Even more importantly, our identity is verified online, and by our devices, many times a day. This is despite having no physical evidence to give it authority. It is now possible to solve the issues of turning our physical identification documents into an online identity with the added security of biometric data.

Advantages of a Biometric Identity Blockchain

By including biometric data in an identity blockchain, it would satisfy the needs of all existing identity verification systems, both physical and online. It would achieve this by exposing a source of proven data that cannot be hacked, falsified or tampered with. Data that can directly link the human characteristics to the stored information.

This means that instead of showing a passport or a driver’s licence, you could simply press your thumbs on a reader or have your iris scanned. With online services, you could prove your identity by encrypting a token with your private key. By decrypting that token with your public key, available on the identity blockchain, the online service can verify your identity.

Another advantage is that your online identity can never be lost by forgetting your password. This is because you can always verify your identity by physically presenting yourself at an identity service provider. Banks, police stations, and other organisations currently fulfil the role of identity service providers. It is reasonable to assume that this business model would continue when providing the service becomes more streamlined and cheaper.

By having a single source for identity and biometric data in the blockchain, all records related to an individual can be linked back to that identity. This does not need to be managed by the identity blockchain, but can be as simple as a reference to the identity’s location in the blockchain. Because of this, government, financial, and personal records could share a single unique element that binds them together. And this unique identity will never suffer from duplication or mistaken identity.

With biometrics on the blockchain, two-tier authentication is not required, because the metric that is used is unique, tamper proof, and cannot be stolen.

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