Context for developing DID-Linked Resources
For example, common types of resources that might be required to issue and validate Verifiable Credentials are:
- Status lists;
- Trust registries;
- Visual Representations of Verifiable Credentials;
- Documents; or
"http://schema.org/streetAddress": "123 Main St.",
This might also take the form of evidence schemes, which describe additional information about the processes used to validate the information presented in a Verifiable Credential in common, machine-readable format.
Trust registries enable recipients of a Verifiable Credential exchange to check that the Decentralized Identifier of the issuer is listed in a trusted registry. This provides a level of assurance in the authenticity of the issuer. Examples of Trust Registries include the ToIP Trust Registry Specification, EBSI Trust Registry API, etc.
Although Verifiable Credentials can be exchanged digitally, in practice most identity wallets want to present “human-friendly” representations. Examples of this include the Overlays Capture Architecture (OCA) specification, Apple Wallet PassKit ("
.pkpass"), Google Wallet Pass, etc. A resource, using something like Overlay Capture Architecture (OCA) may enable a credential representation to be shown according to the brand guidelines of the issuer, internationalisation (“i18n”) translations, etc.
Image of Overlay Capture Architecture
Such visual representations can also be used to quickly communicate information visually during identity exchanges, such as airline mobile boarding passes.
Image of British airways tickets in digital visual format
In the example above from British Airways, the pass at the front is for a “Gold” loyalty status member, whereas the pass at the back is for a “standard” loyalty status member. This information can be represented in a Verifiable Credential, of course, but the example here uses the Apple Wallet / Google Wallet formats to overlay a richer display.
While it’s useful to have digital credentials that can be verified cryptographically, the reality is that there are often occasions when a quick “visual check” is done instead. For example, when at an airport, an airline staff member might visually check a mobile boarding pass to direct people to the correct queue they need to join. The mobile boarding pass does get scanned at points like check-in, security, boarding etc., to digitally read the information, other scenarios where this is not done are equally valid. However, most Verifiable Credential formats do not explicitly provide such “human-friendly” forms of showing the data held in a credential.
More broadly, there are other types of resources that might be relevant for companies beyond SSI vendors, that want a way to represent information about themselves in an immutable and trustworthy way.
Companies may want to provide authorised image logos to display across different websites, exchanges or block explorers. Examples of this include key-publishing sites like Keybase.io (which is used by Cosmos SDK block explorers such as our own to show logos for validators) and “favicons” (commonly used to set the logo for websites in browser tabs).
The current uses for resources are therefore very broad across the SSI ecosystem, and in addition, for other companies that may want to use DIDs to reference relevant information on ledger. For this reason, it is essential that the SSI community strengthens the way that resources are stored, referenced and retrieved in SSI ecosystems.
In our demo for IIW, we showed an IIW logo as a resource on-ledger, being used within the body of a Verifiable Credential. In the JSON below, you will be able to see the resources being used in both the "@context" and "logo" sections.
"name": "Internet Identity Workshop IIWXXXV",
"location": "Computer History Museum, 1401 N Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043",
By clicking the image below, you will see that this is actually being pulled and resolved from the cheqd ledger:
Image being pulled from the cheqd ledger using the resource module
There are multiple approaches to decentralised identity which rely on centralised infrastructure across different technical layers. Decentralised Identifiers (DIDs): are often stored on ledgers (e.g., cheqd, Hyperledger Indy, distributed storage (e.g., IPFS in Sidetree), or non-ledger distributed systems (e.g., KERI). Yet, DIDs can be stored on traditional centralised-storage endpoints (e.g., did:web, did:git.
The issue of centralisation affects resources providing extra context and information to support Verifiable Credentials. These resources, such as schemas and revocation lists, are often stored and referenced using centralised hosting providers.
Using centralised hosting providers to store resources may have a significant difference in the longevity and authenticity of Verifiable Credentials. For example, a passport (which typically has a 5–10 year validity) issued as a Verifiable Credential anchored to a DID (regardless of whether the DID was on-ledger or not) might stop working if the credential schema, visual presentation format, or other necessary resources were stored off-ledger on traditional centralised storage.
- DIDs could be tampered by compromising the hosting provider: DIDs and DID Documents ("DIDDocs") stored at a centralised web endpoint can be compromised and replaced by malicious actors.
- Hosting providers could unilaterally cease to host particular clients: Hosting providers could terminate accounts due to factors such as non-payment of fees, violation of Terms of Service, etc.
- Single point-of-failure in resiliency: Even for highly-trusted and sophisticated hosting providers who may not present a risk of infrastructure being compromised, a service outage at the hosting provider can make a DID anchored on their systems inaccessible.
Even for highly-trusted and sophisticated hosting providers who may not present a risk of infrastructure being compromised, a service outage at the hosting provider can make a resource anchored on their systems inaccessible.
The high centralisation of cloud providers and history of noteworthy outages clearly demonstrates why we should not host resources on centralised cloud storage in production environments. In Q1 of 2022, the three largest players in the cloud (AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure) dominated with 65 per cent in nearly all regions (outside of China).
Cloud provider market share
Beyond cloud providers, there are other events that exemplify the issuers relying on larger players. The Facebook outage of 2021 (shown in the graph below) took down apps that used “Login with Facebook” functionality. This highlights the risks of “contagion impact” (e.g., a different Facebook outage took down Spotify, TikTok, Pinterest) of centralised digital systems — even ones run by extremely-capable tech providers.
Graph showing drop in Facebook traffic from their global service outage in 2021
Likewise, with decentralised identity, there has been excellent work to decentralise, with standards that remove the need for centralised intermediaries — notably around Verifiable Credentials and the decentralised trust provided by DID Authentication. Yet, all of this excellent work may be eroded in practice, unless every component of an SSI ecosystem is able to maintain an equivalent level of decentralised trust. Resources are currently an area that has been centralised for the sake of convenience.
"Link rot" happens when over time, URLs become inaccessible, either because the endpoint where the content was stored is no longer active, or the URL format itself changes. The graph below from an analysis by The New York Times of linkrot shows degradation over time of URLs.
Link rot analysis over time
For this reason, keeping an up-to-date version of the links themselves is crucial. Furthermore, a study of link rot found at least 66.5% of links to sites in the last 9 years are dead. This can have an adverse impact on the digital longevity of Verifiable Credentials if there’s “link rot” in the resources necessary to process the credential. For this reason, projects such as The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine exist to snapshot digital ephemera before they are lost forever.
A pie chart showing an analysis of why link rot happens
This illustrates that link rot can affect a significant proportion of links in a relatively small amount of time, and once again, looking at how resources are currently stored in SSI ecosystems, if the resource locations are moved and the links are broken, the Verifiable Credentials relying on these resources become unusable. Therefore, resources, once defined, should be architected to be used and referenced indefinitely, without being changed.
Finally, the centralised way that resources are currently stored and managed is not immutable, and as a result, it is liable to tampering. For example, if a hosting provider is compromised, or if malicious actors are working for the company, resources may be changed and previous resource versions may be purged from the central database.
As we move towards a new web infrastructure with Web 3 (and beyond…), and as more projects leverage blockchain and distributed ledgers, it’s important not to port the previous issues of the web, and instead find novel ways to better manage information, with longevity in mind. This is why at cheqd, we have decided to redesign the way resources are captured on the ledger.
Solutions that do currently store schemas on ledger (e.g., Hyperledger Indy) don't have semantic linkage between old and new versions. In this instance, current ledgers allow new versions to be made but don't offer an easy way for client apps to discover linkages as they evolve over time.
We took the following design principles into consideration, along with an explanation of how we addressed them:
- 1.Built using existing, familiar DID Core Spec patterns: Wherever possible, our design attempts to utilise existing patterns and behaviours within the W3C DID Core specification (such as the use of DID URLs to identify resources), instead of trying to implement proprietary/custom approaches. We believe that similar designs could be adopted by other DID methods if they choose.
- 2.Protection against linkrot for long-term retrieval: Any Resource stored on-ledger is replicated across multiple nodes.
- 1.If any individual node or endpoint is down, lookup requests can be sent to any other node on the network.
- 2.In a catastrophic scenario where the network itself stops to exist, e.g., companies shutting down, getting acquired etc the on-ledger data can still be restored by digital archivists using ledger snapshots. A practical example of this is how Cosmos Hub makes historical chain archives available which can be restored. While this can be cumbersome, we wanted to design for this as a fail-safe.
- 3.Extensible by default: Our objective was to build a flexible design pattern that allowed developers to define and extend their own resource types. Trying to control what kinds of resources could be written to ledger would make the ledger-side logic complex. Instead, we opted for a design where the cheqd ledger acts agnostically to store resources, as long as correctly authorised, as a permanently-accessible endpoint.
- 4.Design for DID-spec "dumb" as well as DID-spec "smart" client applications: Many approaches in this space assume that client applications must be adept at parsing DIDDocs and resolving complex inter-DIDDoc relationships. We saw describing resources using DIDDocs as metadata about the resource which could be independently-parsed by "smart" client applications; while also providing a fallback approach for "dumb" client applications. We internally considered this as "What if an identity wallet understood how to parse JSON, but didn't understand the DID Core spec?"
- 5.Version controlled: The ability to evolve a resource over time is critical for identity use cases. As described above, examples of this include when identity document schemas change, logos evolve, etc. Current approaches (such as Hyperledger Indy CredDefs) deal with this by creating entirely new, unlinked resources. We designed to make it easy, using existing DID Core specification techniques, so that client applications could query "What was the version of a resource with this name on this date/time?"
- 6.Make re-use of resources simple: We liked the concept of Schema.org in the sense that it promotes a common, machine-readable specification. Therefore, our design allows for patterns where the controllers of a DID can reference resources created by other DID owners/controllers, e.g., referencing a pre-existing schema. Taking this line of thought further, it allows for an arbitrary depth of how resources can be nested, as long as they are discoverable/resolvable.
- 7.Notalltypes of resources should be stored on a ledger...but can be made discoverable through similar design patterns: Distributed ledgers are great for redundancy, but the cost of this duplication (in terms of storage required by node, block size, transaction finality speeds, etc) can be quite significant. For instance, a distributed ledger is probably not the best storage and retrieval mechanism for a video file (which can run into many GBs/TBs); or even a PDF larger than a few MBs. cheqd network restricts the block size for an individual block to ~200 KB. This can be updated via an on-ledger vote, but the trade-off of asking node operators to provision ever-expanding storage would be not ideal. Our design therefore restricts the file/payload size of on-ledger resources (in our case, ~190 KB - giving enough room for transaction data besides the resource itself), while allowing the same techniques below to be used for describing off-ledger resources. E.g., our first DID on cheqd network references a 7+ MB image accessible via IPFS. We recognise and accept that DID owners/creators may choose to use their own centralised/decentralised storage, and the design patterns described below accommodate that.