Microsoft announced on a blog the launch of the Identity Overlay Network (ION) beta. The identity system will run on the Bitcoin blockchain and use the Sidetree protocol. However, ION users will still retain control over their own data. A final version may be released this coming autumn.
The launch is a response to the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF)'s efforts to accelerate the development of publicly available technological tools that could help combat the COVID pandemic.
The ION was announced in May 2019 by Microsoft. Microsoft is the first major company to develop a decentralized application based on the Bitcoin blockchain. Being an open source decentralized identity infrastructure based on the Sidetree protocol and built on Bitcoin, the ION is a network that aims to enable several tens of thousands of identity verification operations per second. In other words, the project aims to create decentralized identifications that replace the need to use user names and give each person more control over their data. The ION was developed in collaboration with the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF), which wants to promote the use of DID systems at the global level.
For its part, the Decentralized Identity Foundation (DIF) aims to develop the basis for an open ecosystem of standards-based, decentralized digital identities (DIDs) for organizations, applications and devices.
During the announcement in May 2019, manager York Rhodes, who works on blockchain issues at Micosoft, explained to Coindesk that:
'The Microsoft team had been working for a year on a key signing and validation software that relies on public networks, such as Bitcoin or Ethereum, but that can handle a much higher throughput than the underlying blockchain itself. Applications like Ion based on a large-scale use of the blockchain are a bit like when Microsoft was developing Windows 95. The foundations are being laid to make global adoption of blockchain technology possible, just as the Internet was 25 years ago.
Highlighting the fact that Microsoft was a founding member of the Decentralized Identity Foundation, Rhodes said:
'There are systems that we have at Microsoft that give you permissions in a corporate context, a product called Active Directory, that we believe should be able to recognize these DIDs as well.'
Rhodes added that these Azure-related infrastructure products and services are among Microsoft's most popular offerings. This tiny piece of a giant machine could therefore have a huge impact.
One year after this announcement, which was quite impressive as it showed that a large company like Microsoft decided to use Bitcoin's blockchain, ION is finally available, in beta version.
In a blog post dated June 10, 2020, Daniel Buchner, one of the developers of the open source project at Microsoft Identity, said that ION was now available, in beta version, on the Bitcoin blockchain. Buchner has developed the basic formula of the protocol that uses ION in 2017. Since then, development has been carried out with the Decentralized Identity Foundation team. Mr. Buchner stated that:
'The core promise of DID technology is to give all individuals and entities ownership and control of their identity, which aligns well with our mission to empower every person to work, play and achieve more. To deliver on this promise, we have chosen a different path from some of the more centralized approaches of DID technologies - and we believe ION illustrates this choice'.
In February 2020, Daniel Buchner already suggested that DIDs be struck via an authentication application comparable to Google Authenticator.
'We have sparked the interest of people who want to manage the network,' Buchner told Bitcoin magazine. 'You could make it work yourself - it's just Bitcoin plus IPFS and a little bit of processing. But to start with, we're going to run the login traffic through our servers.
According to Buchner, because IONs were developed from the beginning as a decentralized network, it will work independently of any centralized parties and 'trusted intermediaries' such as Microsoft. In addition, the ION will not depend on special utility tokens, trust validation nodes or additional consensus mechanisms since 'the linear chronology of Bitcoin blocks is the only consensus' required by the ION.
During the development, the ION team was assisted by collaborators, ION is now supported by the Bitcoin Fold application, BitPay, and the Gemini crypto-ship. After this beta release, Microsoft, Casa, and other project collaborators will continue their work to advance ION, focusing on a seamless user experience for creating and managing DIDs to help new users.
In fact, Nick Neuman, Casa's CEO said:
'Online identity has barely evolved since the early days of the web, with ordinary users still relying on username and password combinations that are easily forgotten and are highly vulnerable to hacking or phishing. We are delighted to help ION take full advantage of technologies such as Bitcoin to dramatically improve authentication, security and privacy on the Internet'.
Microsoft has not yet set a release date for the final version, but said that in the coming months ION developers plan to expand the network community and gather additional feedback and contributions, including new use cases and hackathons. Users can follow the progress of the project in the Sidetree and ION repositories on GitHub leading up to the release of the final version, which is scheduled for release this autumn.
Written by Laetisia Harson, Project Manager @Magna Numeris
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