September 27, 2021 - Blog

The Rise of Digital Identity

With the on-going COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changing how the world behaves and interacts, as well as placing obligations on society to reduce in-person contact and adopt new ways of working, the importance of seamless and fast digital interaction has never been greater.

The pandemic has triggered a radical shift in digital customer interactions with respondents. In a survey by McKinsey, organisations stated that they were ‘three times likelier now than before the crisis to say that at least 80 percent of their customer interactions are digital in nature.’ It is clear that previous in-person assumptions have been swept away and Digital has truly become the default means of interaction. It is difficult to envisage this will ever revert back.

Although digital services were previously gaining a foothold quickly, some parts of society were not yet to fully embrace them. While progress has accelerated exponentially over the last year, there is still a critical need for digital interactions and transactions to validate identity easily, securely, and reliably for both consumers and suppliers. In-person presence and provision of physical documents as proof of identity for citizen services (e.g. passports, driving licences, application processes) can no longer be assumed and as digital technology evolves, the types of attacks faced and the risks of fraudulent identity impersonation will increase. There will be an onus on digital identity providers to stay one step ahead. Risk-based identity challenges must be fully considered and balanced within the relevant interaction context so that solutions are appropriate to the risk and impact of any compromise, and the specific environment the user is operating in e.g. considering the technology being used, their location, and their interaction channels. Fraud-based risk assessment controls and monitoring, with automated and proactive mitigation decision processes supported by AI, will help establish a high level of control and visibility.

Information Security obviously plays a key foundational role that can neither be understated nor compromised, and identity solutions must also fully comply with current and new regulatory and compliance obligations, implementing robust encryption, storage, and retention policies. These are non-trivial challenges that will increasingly adapt and grow in sophistication over time and present issues that often transcend geo-political boundaries and regulatory demarcations. They must be fully overcome and resolved for any fully digital society to flourish.

As the ability to evidence and validate digital identity is being demanded and is necessary, it is rightly being recognised by Governments and regulatory bodies, alongside commercial businesses, as a major and key focus area. In February 2021, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport within GOV.UK published its digital identities and trust framework; and the Government Digital Service (GDS) has announced a ‘One Login for Government’ GOV.UK Account service that will replace GOV.UK Verify to introduce an updated citizen single sign-on capability. Elsewhere the European Commission is proposing the introduction of mobile Digital Identity wallets across their EU member states and citizens to store identity data and documents, as an enabler of digital identification for online services.

Citizens expect to interact and transact quickly and securely, and the latest smartphone and mobile devices provide a readily available approach to support this. The increased use and technical advances in mobile biometric and device camera solutions allow the greater capability to meet the requirements of multi-factor authentication for access to device endpoints and services, whilst also simultaneously reducing the reliance on strong passwords and the maintenance and reliability challenges they pose. Future digital identity solutions must intrinsically leverage these device capabilities to enable this new era of digital service interaction and underpin citizen trust in the security of the services provided. At the same time in order to be fully successful and democratic, such digital technology must be available, accessible and inclusive across all areas of society.

Digital identity is a dynamically changing space with much current ongoing activity and rapid technological change in a complex area that presents challenges to all citizens and businesses. Progress in this area is still evolving and there is a shortage of common standards and no single definitive solution to meet all needs. Each party involved in the value chain, their specific needs, and the challenges faced for each user journey must be clearly understood.

What is clear is that Digital Identity has come to the forefront of almost every organisation’s digital agenda, and is an area they must have a clear strategy for if they are to communicate with their customers and suppliers in the way they demand.

In the next part of this blog we will consider some of the emerging potential digital identity solutions and their role in shaping digital interactions for both citizens and commercial users.

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