Hardware-based Identity

I’ve written before about how re-structuring identity is one of the most interesting opportunities on the web today. Today’s identity ecosystem is account-based (accounts with Google, Facebook, Apple, etc), which perpetuates data silos and prevents interoperability & innovation.

As web3 and crypto become more widespread, there’s an opportunity to shift to an identity model that’s more about cryptographic signatures, which can be done directly by an individual without an account at any one company. The problem is, the user experience around this is still rough, and worse, there are some pretty extreme risks (lose your private key, lose everything, with no recourse).

So the big question is how to address the the opportunity and also solve for these hard challenges. It feels to me like an important approach is leveraging the concepts of multi-sig and hardware-based key-signing.

On hardware-based keys: the most powerful one out there today is the iPhone. ApplePay and sign-in with Apple are all about the hardware you hold (the phone) and using it to authenticate. It’s secure and easy (amazingly so) — no need to remember passwords, limited phishing vectors, etc. Problem is, it’s totally locked up in Apple land.

Luckily there’s a lot going on in the identity hardware space.

I use a Yubikey every day. It’s still a geeky experience and not for everyone, but it’s eye opening, and it builds on open standards like FIDO.

I was intrigued today to see the launch of Ryder, a wearable hardware wallet in watch form. A problem for me, though, is that I don’t like wearing a watch. Just not comfortable and I don’t want to do it.

I think rings are a really interesting form factor here. I just ordered an Oura Ring for sleep tracking (thanks Nadia) and am excited to try it. And Joel recently pointed me to the NFC Ring which lives in the payments (and identity) space.

Cards are also a big one. We use cryptographic key signing on cards every day (smart chips), but still only connected to existing payment systems. Projects like Keycard (thx again Joel) have the potential to open that up.

For hardware identity to really work (and to be safe), it also needs to be paired with some sort of multi-sig or multi-factor process. Project like Casa and Magic have been working out a lot of the details here and I think we’re getting closer to really good user experiences.

In the end, I want to live in a world where using the web “just works” — where fundamental activities like login and payments can feel like magic, but without perpetuating proprietary and siloed models.

Subscribe to new posts by email:

Get new posts by email