A collaboration between Blockpass and Edinburgh Napier University was announced in April this year and plans to establish the Blockpass Identity Lab (BIL) were revealed. With an initial scope of creating and furthering pioneering methods to protect consumer identity and the right of citizens to data privacy, the funding provided will be financing research staff, PhD studentships and a virtualised blockchain environment over three years.
The lab itself will be situated at the Edinburgh Napier University’s Merchiston campus and will be headed by Professor Bill Buchanan of the university’s School of Computing, who is Lab Director, with Liam Bell as Research Lead. Under this world-class leadership and expertise, the lab will carry out research around cryptography and blockchain, and how they can benefit self-sovereign identity
, the Internet of Things, lightweight cryptography and quantum cryptography.
Although many see the recent GDPR development as providing consumers with greater data protection, the fact of the matter is that companies still have access to a user’s personal data. When data is given to an entity, they have the ability to misuse it, or lose it. The only solution to this issue is a self-sovereign identity, where a user is in full control of their data and companies or services cannot see the details of this personal information. Whilst the Blockpass app is working towards providing this self-sovereign identity, in its current version, it has not reached its final stage of development and, as is required by law, companies still see a user’s details. Through the Blockpass Identity Lab and the expertise of the researchers at Edinburgh Napier University, the necessary research and development in this field will provide a path to the ultimate goal of true-self sovereignty.
Globally, the focus of blockchain R&D, still in itself quite a niche area, is beginning to diversify more from the original financial focus it had, with applications increasingly being developed in areas ranging from insurance to supply chains, gaming to advertising, and education to farming. Despite this, the vital importance of the crossover between blockchain technology and digital identity, particularly self-sovereign identity, is not one that has had much research published around it. Some of the more well-known efforts that are working in the area of developing identity have come from Microsoft and Estonia. Microsoft’s Identity Division has reported that it is working on enabling digital identities that the user owns, where the user will have complete control over who accesses their data and how it is used. Estonia has created the Estonia ID card which is a cryptographically secured digital ID which uses blockchain-like infrastructure. Blockpass’ collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University in creating the Blockpass Identity Lab will push this research further, with a number of vital opportunities that a blockchain-based solution can provide.
One key area that the lab will focus on is Zero-Knowledge Proofs. At its core, Zero-Knowledge Proof, or ZKP, is the ability to validate the authenticity of information without having access to, or knowledge of, the information. With a solution that worked with ZKP, Blockpass would allow a user to maintain complete control and confidentiality of their data, whilst providing merchants proof that the user fits the criteria they are required to conform to. Linked to this, another important focus for research will be on homomorphic encryption. This enables computation to be carried out on encrypted data as if it were unencrypted, so that encrypted data can be analysed without revealing it in its raw form - further enhancing the privacy of a user’s personal information.
These two areas - ZKP and homomorphic encryption - are the initial research focus for the BIL. At present, the lab is being set up with the goal of being up-and-running fully in September 2018; however, research has already begun for a variety of use-cases and the lab is looking for partners to collaborate with. In the long run, the lab will be expanding to also undertake ground-breaking research on areas such as the Internet of Things and device identity - providing important knowledge that can be utilised by Blockpass as it expands towards its ultimate goal of human, company, device and object identity. Beyond just identity, research will also be carried out that will benefit food provenance, the construction sector and digital voting.
As it moves rapidly towards its September launch, the Blockpass Identity Lab is seeking PhD students who are interested in working at the bleeding edge of cryptography, identity and blockchain technology. There are currently 5 fully funded 3-year PhD studentships which will cover the UK/EU tuition fee rate (applications from outside the EU will need to cover additional tuition expenses) with an application deadline set at the 18th of June. In addition, the Blockpass Identity Lab is looking for any organisations that wish to collaborate in the blockchain sphere. As well as this, the lab is interested in beginning dialogue with universities which have an interest in affiliating and collaborating on research papers, or sending and receiving visiting researchers.