B.C.’s CIO says verifiable credentials key to creation of national digital strategy

B.C.’s chief information officer this week outlined the importance of verifiable credentials (VCs) and how they can form the cornerstone of not only the province’s next digital identity strategy, but a national one as well.

Speaking at the IdentityNORTH Annual Summit 2022 in Toronto, CJ Ritchie said a key reason why they are so critical is that cyber intrusion incidents continue to escalate.

“The stats in this area are sobering,” she said. “Research tells us that identity theft is up five-fold in the last decade, and we also know that the number of cyber incidents is higher than ever before.

“In 2020, there were more cyber incidents than in the previous 15 years combined. In B.C. we see 496 million unauthorized access attempts every single day, and for those of you trying to do the math, that’s 5,741 per second. And that’s up from the beginning of the year when it was a mere 370 million.”

Cybercrime, added Ritchie, is more profitable than the sale of all illegal drugs combined, and it’s not ending.

The reason why VCs are key to any jurisdiction’s digital strategy, she said, is that they are “a secure and trustable path that can be a critical part of how we address cyber security.”

According to a B.C. government web site, VCs are not only extremely flexible, but highly privacy-focused to allow the following to take place:

  • People gain control over their own credentials and how they’re shared, a key part of Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI).
  • Credentials are tamperproof and it’s easy to verify that they came from the right issuer, all without the need for the verifier to be contacted.
  • Only some parts of a credential can be presented to a verifying organization, further protecting privacy—for example, proving you’ve over 19 rather than revealing your date of birth.
  • Credentials are validated using a distributed ledger such as a blockchain, so there is no centralized control over data, and the validation options are highly available.

“They are also interoperable and scalable,” said Ritchie. “The solution doesn’t stop at B.C. borders. This is not a B.C. solution. This needs to be a Pan-Canadian solution. VCs empower people and they meet our desire to give people control over their data.”

There are currently several VC pilots going on in the province, one of which being with the Law Society of British Columbia, which allows lawyers in good standing to access sensitive court documents online after being issued with a personalized VC.

“The great part about verifiable credentials is that their patterns are repeatable,” said Ritchie. “You can apply these to everyday transactions. The more we talk about this with other levels of government, with municipalities, and other people, the more people can apply that to their own business interactions and think through for their own lines of business where this might be applicable.

“There’s a lather-rinse-repeat cycle here and so we expect there will be an online ecosystem that emerges based on it. Information and IDs that are authentic and trustable and provable.”

Ritchie, who today is attending a meeting with her provincial counterparts as well as Treasury Board president Mona Fortier in Quebec City, said the fact the two levels of government are actively and jointly discussing digital identity strategies and cybersecurity initiatives is promising.

“I think It will be very helpful to have ministers wrapped around the idea of digital ID and verifiable credentials.”

As for the two-day meeting, she said her “definition of success would be that there’s some clarity of role, that everybody leaves with a sense of purpose.”

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Paul Barker
Paul Barker
Paul Barker is the founder of PBC Communications, an independent writing firm that specializes in freelance journalism. His work has appeared in a number of technology magazines and online with the subject matter ranging from cybersecurity issues and the evolving world of edge computing to information management and artificial intelligence advances.

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