IRMA and Verifiable Credentials
2022-07-24, 10:00–10:30, Battery 🔋

Nowadays, when a user wants to authenticate mostly centralized systems, such as DigiD in the Netherlands, are utilized. Extreme events can impact the reliability of such systems. Decentralized, and more privacy-preserving systems, such as IRMA can help to build more reliable authentication infrastructures. With IRMA, a user can store signed attributes, such as their full name or address, within the IRMA mobile app. Subsequently, the user can disclose a subset of her attributes to parties during an authentication session. The Verifiable Credentials (VC) standard helps to make such systems interoperable, that is, users can use attributes across different credential systems. With a proof of concept, we show how to make IRMA VC-compliant.

During extreme events, such as power outages or big floods, centralized systems are especially vulnerable as their availability can be impacted. This could result in that the whole system is unusable. Therefore, it is beneficial to develop decentralized infrastructures, as one is not dependent on centralized components.

Digital authentication nowadays is mostly done via centralized systems, such as DigiD, the authentication system of governmental services in the Netherlands. Every authentication session goes through a central authority, which makes the system centralized. Additionally, from a privacy-perspective, an issue is that such a system can keep track on which sites users authenticate. To achieve more system reliability and more user privacy, it is desirable to develop authentication systems that are working in a more decentralized manner.

One existing solution to this challenge is IRMA. IRMA stands for I Reveal My Attributes and is developed by the Dutch non-profit organization Privacy By Design. A central element of IRMA is a mobile app, which the foundation promotes as a digital passport on your own mobile device. Users can collect signed attributes, a set of attributes is called a credential, from authoritative parties. An attribute is for instance, your Dutch BSN, full name, or email address. IRMA protects the privacy of individuals by letting the individuals decide which attributes they want to disclose to whom, and by implementing advanced cryptography, including zero-knowledge proof techniques. Consequently, the receiving party can validate the authenticity of the disclosed credentials without the need to contact the party that issued the credentials.

Verifiable Credentials (VC) is a standard developed by the W3C. It provides a data model and a syntax aiming to make credential systems interoperable, for instance, it can enable users to disclose credentials issued by one system to another system.

Currently, IRMA can only be used within the IRMA ecosystem, that is, among servers and mobile apps that use the IRMA attributes. However, it would be desirable that people are able to use such advanced technologies and authentic attributes on the entire web across different systems. This avoids that people need different apps to be used, that could contain the same attributes, with different systems. Our research shows that it is possible to make IRMA VC-compliant via a proof of concept. Subsequently, through VCs, IRMA attributes are available for servers and apps outside the IRMA ecosystem. Similarly, other credentials can become universally verifiable.

As decentralized systems become increasingly more available, governments and other organizations can utilize reliable and privacy protecting authentication widely. This benefits everyone – even and especially during extreme events.

Daniel was born in Germany in 1986, but moved to the Netherlands in 2006 to study there, and afterwards working at different IT-consulting companies.
In 2016 he decided to do a master study in Software Engineering at the Open Universiteit in the Netherlands. His master thesis is about "IRMA and Verifiable Credentials".
In April 2021 Daniel started working for the Radboud University in Nijmegen as PhD candidate / scientific programmer.