Digital Identity and Why it’s a Big Deal

You are who you say you are. Check. You have a valid photo ID, like a driver’s license. Check. You have a valid biometric ID, like a passport. Double check! Congratulations! You and your digital identity, can now start your day. But beware – your personal information may or may not be secure as you venture through your day, at the office, at the ATM, in the supermarket, or filling up your car at the local gas station.

While we are living in an age of all things digital and connected, where information reigns supreme, the real challenge is not just in security our personal information, it’s about our ability to control it. Of the top concerns we humans have, most of us shudder when it comes to our privacy, and the lack of transparency in the big (and sometimes, bad) digital world. This is where our digital identity or digital ID, comes into play.  An intimate, one-on-one relationship between a human, and their digital presence, your digital identity, and everyone else’s on the planet, is made up of multiple credentials, reams of data, various accounts (bank and social), and a host of other privileges linked to any one individual. The question is, if our digital identity is flat out there for the world to see, how can we protect our digital selves from credentials theft, or being roped, albeit, unknowingly, into fraudulent activity? Let’s look at the ins and outs of digital identity, understand why it is a big deal, and how to keep your digital ID secure.

What is a digital identity?

Let’s start with the easy stuff, in that a digital identity is a digital representation of your personal information, for example, your first and last name, and your date of birth. It’s a collection of information about “you” that exists online. When this info, actual reams of data, are fused together, they can provide a digital representation of said individual, online. If you take things up a notch, your digital identity can also include other pertinent information, such as your home address, or biometric information, like a face scan (facial recognition), fingerprints, or even a voice scan. All of the information collected by these and other digital apps or devices, are used to confirm your identity to outside sources, such as government authorities, financial institutions, or credit card companies. Businesses use this information to establish their customers’ identities, while your digital ID is how you automatically access online services, from purchasing products, to accessing your medical records, and more.

Your digital identity, including usernames, passwords, search history, social security number, and purchase history, will get you in the digital door, but it can also expose your digital behavior. In other words, your online activity, be it social, such as Facebook or TikTok posts, or purchasing, like that family-size pizza or first-class tickets to Tahiti. To keep your digital identity in check, you need to ensure that you’re not handing over your personal information (your identity) to people, systems, or websites that are not trustworthy, or seem questionable or suspicious. It’s therefore no surprise that digital identity use is more prevalent than ever, and, you guessed it, so are digital identity verification methods.

Examples of digital identity

Common examples of digital identity can include personal information, such as name and date of birth, email addresses, usernames and passwords, social security numbers, passport numbers, online search activities, and purchasing history or behavior. It’s these and other ‘unique identifiers’ that make it possible for businesses to determine and verify who we are.

But time and time again, you will be asked to prove or confirm your identity. Common scenarios include opening a new bank account, purchasing age-restricted products, such as alcohol, or proving that you’re ‘old enough’ to rent a car. By far, the #1 benefit of a digital identity, is that, like ‘digital you,’ it is not location dependent. You can prove your identity at any time, from anywhere, and you are not required to be across the street, nor across the world to confirm, that – you are you.

Digital identity regulations

As digitization continues to consume how we live, and how we work, more and more individuals and organizations are seeking better, smarter, and more secure ways for your digital identity to literally, follow you – and not the other way around. This is where (and why) regulatory standards for digital identification were established, and where what many businesses and organizations refer to as ‘united’ or standard digital identity, ensuring that your identity is safely stored in one location, and your information can be sent to apps and services that need it.

The regulations and laws, for example, the European Digital Identity Regulation, set out the conditions for the establishment of eIDAS, a European standard. eIDAS essentially rules the digital identity, and includes a set of requirements and specifications for digital transactions, and trusted services, and is the basic framework for companies and users to operate through the internet. Aimed at EU member countries and their citizens, as defined by law, the regulation securely shares data related to digital identity, and defines standards across the EU for electronic identification (eID), electronic signatures, time stamps, electronic seals, and other proof of authentication for digital transactions that are the legal equivalent to paper documents.

How to verify digital identity

Verifying digital identity is the process of proving that an individual’s identity is legitimate. Essentially, it confirms that a person is really who they say they are, and that their credentials, the personal information they have shared, is not stolen or forged. And verification is of course, digital, all online, without ever having to meet the person, business, or organization, face-to-face. Verifying digital identity requires verifying several elements at the same time, and typically, involve a wide range of checks. These can include a combination of one or more of the following checks:

  • Often regarded as a lower level, non-intrusive process for customers, standard background database checks confirm user (customer) information against larger, more complex databases, such as mobile phone operators, utilities providers, or government agencies.
  • Proof of address. Verifying and establishing proof of address is typically used as part of the customer onboarding process, and is also an integral part of several AML (anti-money laundering) regulations.
  • Biometrics verification helps confirm that the individual presenting an identity document, such as a driver’s license or passport, is in fact, its owner. By pairing a person’s biometrics (facial scanning) to what appears in the document, is compliant with regulations.
  • Watchlist checks are lists for people and organizations to monitor and screen against highly suspicious and fraudulent activities. Watchlists include sanctioned foreign assets, blocked persons, politically exposed persons (PEP), and other data sources.

When it comes to proving your digital identity, for the most part, it’s an easy, straightforward, and anticipated process. As ardent online consumers, although we are quick to share our personal information, our digital identity – in a heartbeat, one thing will never change. The second we hit that SEND button, we will never ‘not’ worry about potential security risks, identity theft, and fraud. As digital identity technologies continue to flourish, today’s cyber threat actors are evolving right along with them. Perhaps it’s about finding the balance between the two. As the world move towards more complex digital ID systems, literally, on every corner, businesses and organizations must ensure they have secure and reliable digital identity management solutions in place that will safeguard our personal information, no matter what.

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