Canada’s ‘big 5’ banks launch blockchain-based digital identity service with SecureKey

A blockchain-based digital identity network designed by Toronto-based SecureKey Technologies Inc. and supported by the top banks in Canada announced its official launch on Wednesday.

Dubbed Verified.Me, the service has been a long time in the making and was originally slated for a release last Fall. Available via a web portal and a mobile app, it promises consumers a way to control their personal information: who it gets shared with, what they use it for, and what they can do with it. It also provides access to financial services in a way that makes it easy to prove you are who you say you are.

Banks CIBC, Desjardins, RBC, Scotiabank, and TD will support the blockchain-powered Verified.Me as of today. BMO (Bank of Montreal) and the National Bank of Canada will launch the service soon. Banks play a key role in the identity authentication service provided, requiring that users sign-on with their online banking credentials. The app’s multi-factor verification system also makes use of biometrics and wireless carrier information about personal handsets.

“It’s the longest and hardest road I’ve ever worked on,” says Greg Wolfound, CEO of SecureKey, in an interview with IT World Canada. “It’s the rigor that goes into the security.”

A look at the Verified.Me Android mobile app.

The time is right for a digital identity solution because of the threatening cyber environment, he says. With many data breaches occurring that lead to stolen passwords and hi-jacked credentials, businesses are starting to lose faith that they really know the identity of the customer.

“People are fed up with that,” Wolfond says. “We want to be able to prove who we are and stop the bad people from impersonating us.”

Blockchain breakthrough backed by banks

The nation-wide service is the most significant use case of blockchain seen in Canada yet, with the financial industry supporting the initiative at the outset and the potential for more public and private sector partners in the future.

At CIBC, the service is seen as a way to not only meet know your customer (KYC) and anit-money laundering (AML) compliance standards, but as a way to improve customer convenience, says Greg Elcich, vice-president of enterprise innovation at CIBC.

“It’s our first commercial implementation of blockchain,” Elcich says in an interview. “I think blockchain technology in this instance was a no brainer.”

Verified.Me is built on IBM Blockchain Platform, developed on the open source Hyperledger Fabric v1.2, and promises to be interoperable with other Hyperledger projects.

At launch, CIBC will enable its customers to add their bank account identity attributes to the Verified.Me service. In the future, it plans to make more of its services available through a Verified.Me authentication. Elcich points to the mortgage application process as an example of a service that will be supported at an undetermined point in the future.

“There are many complex steps around a mortgage that require many documents. You have to send us a photocopy of your driver’s licence,” he says. “That will be done digitally, with the click of a button.”

While no major carriers are named in the launch announcement today, EnStream LP is listed in the press release. The joint venture company owned by Telus, Bell, and Rogers provides identity information on factors related to a user’s smartphone. Details such as phone number, and how long a SIM card has been in a device can help confirm an authentic transaction.

Verified.Me will also initially make use of on-device biometric confirmation features, such as the face unlock or fingerprint scan available on many smartphones. In the future, an independent facial recognition system could be applied to verify for certain government services, Wolfond says.

“For a high-value transaction, they may ask you to turn on your camera and vet you against your driver’s licence,” he says. “We don’t think one factor is good enough. A combination of factors is going to make data security strong and we need all of them.”

Also named as partners are the Digital ID and Authentication Council of Canada, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Global Privacy and Security by Design, and Prodigy Labs.

At launch, there are two services available to Canadians using Sun Life Financial allows Verified.Me users to register for its insurance products. Both the Sun Life mobile app and the Verified.Me app are required. Equifax reports credit scores over the web after authenticating with the Verified.Me app.



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