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As a long-term technology enthusiast, when I hear the word ‘crypto’ my mind thinks of cryptography and I need to override my thoughts and retrain my mind to translate that to cryptocurrency, and that is digestible; the word ‘crypto’ is derived from the Greek word, ‘kryptós’ which means “secret”, or “hidden”, so the word is perfect in its remit to “hide” another meaning, at least that’s what I use as a logical satisfaction for my mind.
We may keep ourselves fascinated with the discussion on who was the first to use the term ‘cryptocurrency’, and that Bitcoin was not the first cryptocurrency, but the fact is: we cannot ignore the cryptocurrency phenomenon – there is a world around it. As of July 2022, there are more than 20,000 cryptocurrencies in existence, although not all of these are currently active. Even if we discount these inactive ones, there are still around 11,000 active cryptocurrencies, and the market capitalisation is close to a trillion USD in October 2022.
One of the most critical elements of this crypto world is the human aspect to this: there are more than 300 million cryptocurrency users globally and around 18,000 businesses now accept a form of cryptocurrency-based payment and the crypto world, or rather, a major part of it, finds reliance on some form of blockchain technology.
Decentralisation – the attraction of the blockchain
Although there is no technical need to have a deep dependence on a blockchain technology for a cryptocurrency to become functional, one of the main attractions is decentralisation. Yes, there are popular cryptocurrencies which do not use blockchain technologies – like Ripple – which uses the Ripple network or MIOTA which uses the Tangle (a transaction settlement and data integrity layer) as well as other cryptocurrencies which use Hashgraph, a distributed ledger technology gaining momentum as it claims to be more secure, efficient, and faster than blockchain.
Still, many of the cryptocurrencies use blockchains, making these the main use case for blockchain technology, at least at the moment and for the near future: Bitcoin uses the Bitcoin blockchain, Ether uses the Ethereum blockchain, Solana uses the Solana blockchain and Dogecoin uses a fork (essentially a split in the blockchain network) of a fork of a fork of the Bitcoin blockchain.
Now the important question: how does identity work in a blockchain? How is “someone” identified in the blockchain? That’s where cryptography comes to the forefront as the answer and hence the term ‘crypto’ – that “someone” is identified using cryptographic keys. The Bitcoin owner is identified by proving the ownership, possession and control of the private key using the ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm) by signing the digital transaction, and the corresponding public key is used with a hash function to create the public address that the Bitcoin owner sends, or receives, funds to, or from.
Beautiful or invisible.
When Steve Jobs said, “Technology should either be beautiful or should be invisible”, he was likely referring to the humanisation of technology. Here is a sample private key which identifies a Blockchain user:
It clearly is neither beautiful nor invisible. Cryptographic keys are not for humans, they are for machines. There is absolutely no argument on the security aspect of using crypto keys to identify the users, but we know the balance between security and convenience is critical for the technology to have a world-changing impact, and when given a choice between convenience and security – the users generally lean towards convenience, sometimes subconsciously.
It is unfair to expect the user to understand the full implications, especially when the technology is not humanised: the implications are beyond the academic and conceptual paradigms. The crypto world was shocked to witness the seed phrase (a cluster of random words generated by your crypto wallet used as an emergency backup) phishing hack on one of the very popular cryptocurrencies, IOTA, a few years back. The IOTA hacker exploited the fact that the crypto keys are not really humanised and offered the unassuming users assistance with managing keys for free through a seed generator, with the goal of stealing private keys (seed) of the genuine users.
It may sound strange, and radical, but the invisibility of technology, as popularised by none other than Steve Jobs, is a humanising factor and has a critical security narrative. We can summarise it as “seamless” technology.
Security and convenience
Invisible and seamless humanised technology nicely balances the much sought-after twin dimensions of security and convenience. We almost forget that we have been using such a technology for a long time and that at least five billion of us use this technology many times every day: it’s mobile network technology.
Cryptography has been at the core of mobile network technology from the first mobile network service ever used, still, the cryptographic keys are invisible to the user – humanising it to a great extent. The SIM card (including the recent evolution into eSIM) contains cryptographic keys which are critical to the identity of the user, through the possession and control of the SIM card; the “I” in the SIM is for ‘identity’ after all.
Most users are not even aware of the existence of the cryptographic keys sitting nicely in the SIM, and that there are complex crypto dances going on to make the mobile network manage that identity. The identity of the user is managed using several cryptographic keys including the 128-bit Ki (authentication) key in the SIM. Added to that, the mobile network makes sure it knows if any changes have happened to the SIM – which is the cryptographic key manager.
If the SIM has been swapped, including if the user loses the mobile phone with the SIM, then the disablement of the SIM card – along with the cryptographic keys inside – is just a phone call away to the mobile operator’s customer service department. This is Mobile Identity – humanising the cryptographic technology for identity since the very first mobile network call was made.
In the mobile identity world, the user is equipped with more humanised identifiers like the mobile phone number, although it can still be argued that the mobile network does not even need to ask the user, “Hey, what’s your mobile phone number?” to identify them, it does so invisibly.
The obvious question that comes to the forefront now is, “Can we not reuse the same technology used in mobile identity to seamlessly identify and authenticate the user in the crypto world, thereby humanising the cryptocurrency world?”. The answer is a resounding, “Yes”.
Solutions like Sekura’s SAFr Auth – the Mobile Authentication/Mobile Number Verification service, along with the number of fraud signals and attributes from Sekura to provide additional assurance, do exactly that, where the invisible authentication of the mobile network is reused for the extended purpose. Additionally, there is the same great opportunity in using the SIM as the humanised technology component to manage the cryptographic keys for the crypto world – as it has been doing silently, invisibly, and very efficiently for many decades now.
Let’s humanise the crypto world, Mobile Identity is already here to do that.
With coverage across 5 continents, Sekura Mobile Intelligence is the leading global provider of mobile data, providing trusted, secure and easy-to-consume solutions for ID verification, anti-fraud and secure online authentication use cases.
Sekura works with established KYC, identity verification and risk data providers who have already integrated into leading global brands with demand for mobile identity solutions.
Through the integration of real-time mobile data into our partners’ existing services, we enable them to extend and enhance their customer offerings into new services, use cases and geographies through the adoption of SAFr, our single standards-based, mobile intelligence API.
To offer your customers the opportunity to benefit from our global mobile identity solutions, contact the Sekura team today.