New IBM tech lets apps authenticate you without personal data

Identity Mixer uses a 'zero-knowledge proof' instead

Back in January -- on Data Privacy Day, no less -- IBM announced Identity Mixer, a new technology for protecting users' personal data during authentication. On Friday, it announced that the technology is now available to developers on its Bluemix cloud platform.

It's common for apps today to require that users prove their identity and other credentials, but all too often that authentication process exposes a raft of unnecessary and potentially sensitive personal information along the way.

To access an online streaming-movie service's app, for example, users might have to prove that they have a paid subscription and are over18 years old. Traditionally, that would mean revealing their full date of birth along with assorted other personal details that aren't actually necessary for the proof, such as first and last name, address, etc.

When a breach happens, there's all that much more potentially sensitive information exposed.

Identity Mixer is designed to protect users' privacy by focusing just on the essentials of the proof. Thanks to a set of algorithms based on cryptography work done at IBM Research, the tool allows developers to build apps that can authenticate users' identities using what's known as a "zero-knowledge proof" that collects no personal data.

Specifically, Identity Mixer authenticates users by asking them to provide a public key. Each user has a single secret key, and it corresponds with multiple public keys, or identities. Each transaction a user makes receives a different public key and leaves no privacy "breadcrumbs."

So, in the streaming service example, users would have both identity and subscription credentials stored in a personal Credential Wallet. To access a movie, they could use that electronic wallet to prove that they're entitled to watch the selected content without having to expose any other details.

The result, according to IBM, is that users' privacy is better preserved, and the service provider is spared the need to protect and secure all that extraneous data.

"One of the key principles for protecting privacy is the concept of data minimization," said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "Anything that can be done to reduce the amount of data that's collected as part of the authentication process is definitely a very good thing."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags IBM

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Katherine Noyes

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?