Microsoft introduced a new open-source protocol Monday that is designed to hurdle performance issues when trying to use blockchain networks to verify identity at scale.
ION, or Identify Overlay Network, is based on an earlier blockchain project built by Microsoft and several partners called Sidetree. ION runs on the Bitcoin blockchain and makes it possible to verify a much higher number of identity verification requests than current blockchain systems — valued for their decentralized nature — can handle using current technology, Microsoft’s Daniel Buchner, senior program manager for Microsoft Identity Division, said in a blog post.
Ever since the meteoric rise of Bitcoin put the blockchain on the map, tech companies have been looking for ways to use the unique decentralized network structure it employs for purposes other than wild currency speculation. The blockchain allows two parties to securely and directly exchange data using cryptographic protocols to verify their identities, rather than relying on a central clearing house to do that verification work.
However, this process is pretty slow compared to modern systems — like Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory — that companies use to verify the identity of employees signing onto their corporate networks, for example.
“While blockchains unlock the ability to create highly secure, censorship resistant identity systems, their transactional volumes are severely limited when compared to traditional systems,” Buchner wrote in the post.
ION was designed to speed up that process without losing any of the decentralized features of the blockchain. It allows anyone to create decentralized identifiers (DIDs) that they own, manage, and control as part of a identity management system.
CoinDesk, which tracks this world far more closely than we do, said this is the first time any major tech company has built something like this over the Bitcoin blockchain. According to its analysis, ION could have major ripple effects across the enterprise tech landscape if it gets integrated into Microsoft cloud services through Azure as an identity-management standard.
Microsoft was careful to emphasize that ION was an “early preview” released “rough edges and all,” so it will likely take some time before companies are willing to bet on this technology. Developers interested in kicking the tires or contributing to the ION project can find more information here.