What Is a Self-Sovereign Identity?

The notion of self-sovereign identity arose from our personal control over our online personas (SSI). In essence, a person with an SSI owns their digital and analog identities and has complete control over how their data is seen and shared.


The notion of self-sovereign identity arose from our desire for personal control over our online identities and personal data (SSI). In essence, a person with an SSI owns and controls their digital and analog identities, as well as the usage and sharing of their personal data.

While the concept of SSI has been around for decades, it wasn’t until blockchain that it could be put into practical implementation.


As more of our lives move online, the number of accounts, user profiles, and login credentials that the average individual must manage continues to climb. End users end up having a plethora of online personas controlled by various online organizations as more firms develop their own proprietary systems for confirming their users’ identities.

Online identities are currently beset by three challenges within this framework:

Lack of Flexibility: Most present online identification systems are rigid and can only be applied to specific, specified use cases since they are based on commercial connections and technical linkages with centralized authorities.

Questionable Privacy Protections: Malicious actors can more readily get our personal information thanks to the existing use of shared internet identifiers like browser cookies. Identity systems that rely on personal data like email addresses, phone numbers, and even Social Security numbers are also vulnerable.

Furthermore, businesses frequently lack the means or drive to protect their personal information appropriately.

Centralized Discovery: To be valuable, online identities must be discoverable, in the sense that an entity with whom you wish to interact needs a mechanism to check up who you claim to be.

This has traditionally resulted in the usage of centralized identity directories, which can be cross-referenced and lead to the over-sharing of private identifying information.

Even if you use a password manager for convenience or spend the majority of your time on multi-service platforms like Google (which allows you to access several services with a single click), you are still giving third-party authenticators authority over your online personas. Alternatively, you can choose to share select pieces of your online persona with whom and how you want.

The notion of self-sovereign identity arose from our lack of personal control over our online identities and personal data (SSI).

In essence, a person with an SSI owns and controls their digital and analog identities, as well as the usage and sharing of their personal data. The major components of a self-sovereign identity are discussed here, as well as the potential repercussions of this revolutionary new approach to digital identity management.

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What Are the Characteristics of a Self-Sovereign Identity?

While the notion of SSI has existed in theory for decades, it was not until the advent of blockchain that it could be converted into practical use. The following characteristics must be included in every SSI system:

Persistence: An SSI must be completely owned by the individual who produces it, as well as being permanent and non-reusable. As a result, no one other than the owner can decommission or destroy an SSI.

Decentralization: Because an SSI holder is in charge of the contacts he or she forms and the information they share, a peer-to-peer network rather than a standard client-server network architecture is used.

Privacy Protections: SSI owners have complete control over how their information is shared and used, thus any request to utilize an SSI owner’s personal information requires the owner’s explicit consent.

Portability: To attain real self-sovereignty, an SSI must be interoperable and device and network agnostic.

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How Do Self-Sovereign Identities Work?

Establishing a decentralized ecosystem of self-sovereign identities can be done in a variety of ways. They can be boiled down to a general framework consisting of the following elements:

Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs): A DID is a string of values that may uniquely identify a person without relying on a centralized authority and is cryptographically secure and machine-verifiable. DIDs are meant to work across different blockchains, software libraries, and protocols, and use public and private key pairs to encrypt information and manage rights. The following two elements are present in every DID:  

DID Document: A DID document is a collection of cryptographic materials that characterize the DID holder and allow him or her to demonstrate authority over the DID.

DID Method: On a distributed network, a DID method is the technique for creating, reading, updating, and deactivating a DID and its associated DID Document.

Simply described, a DID is a form of decentralized identification. In addition, unlike IP addresses, which allow devices to connect with one another, DIDs allow persons and other device-agnostic entities to communicate.

DIDs are expected to be the first new type of online identifier recognized by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) since the URL, and an entity can have as many DIDs as it needs, with each DID represent a different part of a person’s online identity.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII): Your PII is made up of your personal information as well as your online activities. Government-issued identifiers, such as social security numbers, birth date, phone number, or any other information that might be used to follow someone, are examples of private information. A multitude of claims, verifiable credentials, and verifiable presentations make up the online interaction component of your PII:

Claims: A claim is a statement about a subject that is usually expressed as a relationship between subject, property, and value. For example, Satoshi (subject) – Created (property) – Bitcoin (value). Multiple claims can be linked together to produce a network of information that includes multiple subjects and their connections to other topics or pieces of data.

Verifiable Credentials: Verifiable credentials consist of a set of one or more claims made by the same individual, as well as a unique identifier and metadata that describes the credential’s attributes.

Verifiable Presentations: A verified presentation is a subset of a person’s PII that consists of one or more sets of verifiable credentials. For example, unlike when you show your passport to a customs official, you will be able to ‘present’ documentation of your country of origin without revealing your birthdate or full name when asked to confirm your nationality.

Verifiable presentations are crucial to SSI because they allow people to communicate only the components of their online persona that they want to share.

As a result, depending on the context in which it is employed, your PPI can be understood as either “who you are” or “a specific action you claim responsibility for” within the context of the SSI framework.

The underlying cryptographic technique that allows the SSI components to communicate can be summed up as follows:

  1. In the form of a verifiable credential and/or verifiable presentation, an SSI solution leverages a distributed ledger to create immutable recordings of specific events initiated by or involving a unique DID.
  2. Within a decentralized network, or between independent but related decentralized networks, the verifiable credential/presentation is cryptographically shared between network peers.
  3. The recipient of a verifiable credential/presentation then sends a person’s public verification key using the DID associated with that credential/presentation as a discovery mechanism. The data within the verifiable credential/presentation can then be decoded and validated, completing the interaction.

It’s worth noting that an entity’s verifiable credentials/presentations aren’t kept on a blockchain ledger in an SSI system. Rather, blockchain technology is used to trade cryptographic keys related to an entity’s immutable identifying information in a visible, immutable, and secure manner.

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Truly Own Your Online Identity

When the internet was first created in the 1960s, it was intended to connect devices so that information and resources could be shared across numerous networks. The IP protocol on the internet, on the other hand, can only determine the addresses of the devices you’ve connected to and cannot verify the identity of the company in charge of the equipment.

Self-sovereign identity provides us with an independent and conclusive means of confirming who we are and with whom we are interacting.

While the exact procedures for building an SSI are still being developed and standardized, the goal is clear: to create a decentralized, interoperable system for online identity management that serves as a codified representation of online user liberty and individual self-determination.

As a result, SSI represents the digital identity management of the future and is one of the clearest representations of blockchain technology’s latent potential.