The Future of Authentication

We talk to Dave Huseby about a new way of verifying identity and authenticating data.

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Episode 61: The Future of Authenticating Your Data

Katherine Druckman and Doc Searls talk to Dave Huseby about the authentic data economy, and the future of authentication.

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We talked to returning guest, Dave Huseby, last week about data authentication. Our conversation was largely inspired by his article, The Authentic Data Economy. In it, and in our conversation, he describes a new and lightweight solution to cryptographic proofs that he hopes will change the way we prove the authenticity of our personal data.

Well, one of the classic examples in SSI [Self-sovereign Identity] is when you go to say a bar, the bouncer asks to see your driver's license, you're handing over verified data, right? This is data that the DMV has verified to be true. And it's presented in a form that's independently verifiable. They put it under the black light to make sure that it's not been tampered with, but all that data on there now is available to the bouncer. And what they normally do now is just scan the barcode in the back, which captures all the data, right? It captures all that data in a database. They don't need it. All they need to do is know that you're old enough to get in there. And, and so this is, this is where the crux of the problem, the crux is SSI is to gain our privacy back or to engineer it for us to be in control of our own data and to be masters of our own privacy.

For a little background, I’ll borrow this definition of a zero-knowledge proof from Wikipedia:

In cryptography, a zero-knowledge proof or zero-knowledge protocol is a method by which one party (the prover) can prove to another party (the verifier) that they know a value x, without conveying any information apart from the fact that they know the value x. The essence of zero-knowledge proofs is that it is trivial to prove that one possesses knowledge of certain information by simply revealing it; the challenge is to prove such possession without revealing the information itself or any additional information.

The hope is that a new cryptographic technique will allow for such proofs to have a much smaller data footprint in order to be more portable and accessible to users as a method of identity verification. You’ll have to listen to the episode to get the full, detailed picture, but it should be an hour well-spent. And, if you’d like to dig even deeper than Dave’s article and our recent podcast episode, Doc’s extensive writing on the subject of identity can be found over on his blog.

We’d like to reach out to you, our readers and listeners for your comments and questions for the next time Dave joins us on the show. Let’s see if we can move these ideas forward together!

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This Week’s Reading List

  • The Authentic Data Economy. Universal Digital Trust at Global Scale | by dwh | Feb, 2021 | Medium — To this day — even with mass computerization — trust-based interactions stubbornly resist digitization and remain at human scale simply because of the way we keep and maintain authentic data records. Tasks such as opening a bank account, having a document notarized, or signing a contract typically involves an in-person meeting to present the authentic data records (e.g. government identification, proof of funds, etc) and to sign a “wet” signature. However, now that we live in a reality twisted by the DNA strands of the COVID-19 virus, how do we ever hope to get back to in-person business as usual and trust as usual? Even if we can vaccinate against the virus and restore normal human interaction, the need for a more lasting technological solution for establishing trust remotely and transmitting it over great distances still exists. This, I believe, is the last great problem in technology and solving it will create the next crop of billion-dollar companies and billionaire founders.

  • IIW — The Internet Identity Workshop has been finding, probing and solving identity issues twice every year since 2005. We meet in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Every IIW moves topics, code and projects downfield. Name an identity topic and it’s likely that more substantial discussion and work has been done at IIW than any other conference!

  • Merkle tree - Wikipedia — In cryptography and computer science, a hash tree or Merkle tree is a tree in which every leaf node is labelled with the cryptographic hash of a data block, and every non-leaf node is labelled with the cryptographic hash of the labels of its child nodes. Hash trees allow efficient and secure verification of the contents of large data structures. Hash trees are a generalization of hash lists and hash chains.

  • A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace | Electronic Frontier Foundation — Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

  • Doc’s writings on identity — Doc has covered ideas related to self-sovereign identity extensively, and this is a link to many of his posts on the subject.

Thank You!

We look forward to sharing our weekly recaps, reading lists and inspiration with you as we navigate our collective digital reality. We hope you enjoy taking this virtual journey with us, and we’ll do our best to be pleasant travel companions. Cheers until next time!

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