ID-Pal CTO and Co-Founder, Rob O’Farrell | What is Identity Verification Series
In the modern world, trust is more than just a human sentiment. It’s the foundation of how we secure transactions, interactions, and ensure the integrity of our digital selves. As we navigate the vast online spaces, the question, “Who are you?” takes on heightened importance.
This is the first in a five-part series examining identity verification in the digital world, and the challenges that we face in an era of clever fraudsters, Artificial Intelligence and Deep Fakes.
To understand identity in the digital world, we must understand how it works in the real world. Let’s journey together through understanding the core of identity verification.
Nice to meet you
Imagine yourself at a gathering, meeting someone for the first time. A mutual friend introduces you both, vouching for each other’s names. This shared acquaintance forms the initial trust. Similarly, in the broader scope of our lives, trust in our own identities is based on chains of attestations and introductions. A parent or guardian introduces us to the world, linking us to our first identification document. As we grow, one ID helps procure another, strengthening our established identity.
How do I know it’s you?
Allow me some leeway to tell a typical story of how you became you. We hinted in the previous section, that your identity goes all the way back to your birth certificate. Your parents told the hospital who they were, the hospital established trust in their identities somehow, and then wrote a name on your birth certificate.
Eventually, when applying for your first ID, perhaps a passport, your parents attested that you were the person on the birth certificate. A photograph was perhaps taken, and thus your first biometric connection to your identity was created.
Your identity is established by a long chain of people and organizations saying you are who you say you are, starting with your parents.
Is that really you?
Trust forms the bedrock of identity. The network of trusted sources and attestations provides a safety net that verifies our claims about ourselves. It’s less about the piece of identification you hold and more about the journey that piece has taken, the validations it’s been through. There are three key aspects to how we establish that trust, so let’s take a look at them.
Three Pillars of Trust
- Something You Know: This is where the secrets lie! Be it the name of your first pet, the answer to “Where were you born?”, or the ever-ubiquitous password. However, these details, if isolated, have vulnerabilities. They’re just strings of information, which if known by another, can compromise one’s identity.
- Something You Have: From a student ID card during college days to the smart chip-enhanced passport for international travel, these are the tangible pieces that carry our identity. The trust established through these depends largely on their origin and authenticity. Can they be easily duplicated? Were they issued by a credible entity?
- Something You Are: The hard to replicate and unique traits: fingerprints, voice timbre, retina patterns, or facial features. Biometrics, as they’re technically termed, form part of the answer to preventing identity theft.
The intricate dance of trust and identity is age-old, yet its nuances shift with time. As technology evolves, so does the nature of trust. As we explore identity verification further in the rest of this series, we’ll delve into how computers and technology play their part in this age-old system. Remember, at its heart, identity verification isn’t just about documents or biometrics; it’s about trust, and the web of attestations that back it.
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