Digital ID: In a virtual world, how to prove that you are really you?

February 10, 2021 | By Vicki Hyman

Preparing for exams used to be about whether or not you had studied. These days, it’s also about having a strong WiFi connection, making sure your little brother hasn’t scheduled his virtual violin lesson in the next room, and how you can prove to your proctors hundreds or even thousands of miles away that you are, in fact, you.

Ethan Jones is earning his master’s degree in construction management from Australia’s Deakin University, based in Victoria, while he remains at home in Hobart, Tasmania, nearly 400 miles away. To prove his identity during the COVID-19 lockdowns, he has had to scan his passport, but the document is old and weathered. He has been asked to hold his student ID up to the computer screen so that it aligns just so – except it won’t.

But recently he took part in a pilot program with Deakin to test ID, Mastercard’s digital identity service, that can verify students taking exams online. The students create a reusable and shareable digital identity in an app where all the information is controlled by the users on their devices and minimal data is exchanged. Once established and with the student’s consent, the app only shares the specific personal information required to register for an exam on Deakin’s portal.

“It was a lot quicker, a lot faster and a lot less stress,” Jones says. “Everything is controlled from my phone, and I always have it with me.”

The need for digital identity – a way to easily and securely verify your interactions online – has been building for years, but the pandemic has accelerated our dependency on the digital world, from online shopping, bill pay and mobile banking to virtual doctor’s appointments and online learning and remote work.

Digital identification can safeguard the data involved in these interactions while creating more seamless and efficient experiences and reducing fraud across sectors and industries, which can be hugely disruptive to people’s lives and costs businesses a global average of $3.86 million per data breach, according to a new report by the Ponemon Institute and IBM. In the U.S. alone, the number of identity theft reports has risen 75% between 2017 and 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Deakin and Mastercard joined with Australia Post to expand the ID pilot for exams, with students enrolling with Australia Post Digital iD app to gain access to the Deakin exam portal. This integration enables the students to create a reusable and shareable digital identity in a single app where all the information is controlled by the users on their devices and minimal data is exchanged.

William Confalonieri, Deakin’s chief digital officer, says the service could be extended to the enrollment process with a range of applications, including replacing physical identification cards and validating identification for digital transcripts. “COVID-19 has had a clear impact globally on the way we socialize, work and study,” he says. “As education moves ever more strongly into the digital domain, we have a robust way of validating identity so that teaching, assessment and awarding credentials is given to the correct individual.”

In Australia, ID will also be used by leading telecom Optus to let its nearly six million customers simply and securely validate their identities online and in store – whether it’s purchasing a new phone or tablet, making account changes or buying additional services. Instead of presenting passports or driver’s licenses, customers can use the biometric capabilities built into their mobile devices, such as facial recognition.

Optus is the first Australian telco to integrate ID into its customer experience, simplifying the process while protecting users’ identity and battling growing SIM-related fraud such as SIM swapping, in which fraudsters convince providers to activate a new SIM card connected to an unsuspecting customer’s phone.

“We are living in an era of hyper-connectivity, with digital services transforming shopping, business, politics, healthcare and communication,” says Ajay Bhalla, president of Mastercard’s Cyber & Intelligence business. “If we want digital services to blend effortlessly and invisibly with people’s daily lives, we need to establish and safeguard trust in digital interactions.”

A prescription for securing health data

Nowhere is the potential for safe and secure digital identity greater than in healthcare, where the industry is moving – albeit slow because of the extremely sensitive nature of the data – toward standards that give people better access, and more control over their health information.

In the United States, a new cross-industry consortium called Lumedic Exchange is developing a common set of open standards to securely exchange health information. The healthcare technology company Lumedic, the nonprofit health care companies Providence and Cambia Health Solutions, and Mastercard are establishing a common set of digital identity principles and rules for sharing information regardless of healthcare provider, payer or technology partner. No centralized vault of personal information will be created, which will bolster the security of people’s sensitive data.

Eventually, the standards may be used to allow patients to obtain, store and share their own healthcare data on their mobile device. That may include previous medical history, insurance information, test results and vaccination records, streamlining and better securing the process for everyone, with Mastercard providing technology to issue and verify identities.

In Wisconsin, Thedacare, a community health care system, is expanding its deployment of a precision digital health platform from b.well Connected Health to thousands more of its patients and community members. The platform brings together patient data across providers, insurers, pharmacies, and a patient’s own apps and devices, so people can share their information, manage their medications, understand their costs, and receive personalized health insights and alerts. The platform uses Mastercard ID Verification to securely verify a person’s identification in real time.

With increasing COVID-19 caseloads, more people are opting out of in-person care, which makes patient identification and authentication even more challenging, says b.well founder and CEO Kristen Valdes.

“Healthcare workers are doing symptom checking, they’re doing triage, they’re doing telehealth, they’re ordering prescription refills in order to get their patients the care that they need,” she says. “That requires an intense need to advance identity very quickly so that we can get people the right care, connect them to the right records and service them either in a virtual or digital manner or even inside their homes.”

The pandemic has revealed a real global need for the validation of health credentials in a number of circumstances – travel, access to events and hotels, and returning to work, for example. We are already working on the ability to verify COVID-19 vaccinations and test the validity of “health passes” for international travel, and we are working with the cross-industry Good Health Pass Collaborative to develop a blueprint for interoperable health pass systems to help restore travel and restart the global economy.

This must be done in a framework that engenders trust, and digital identity solutions can play an important role. Mastercard is using its experience running a global network to help set standards needed to make the fast, simple and secure validation of personal credentials – including health – interoperable at a global scale.

“At the end of the day, trust is critical in every relationship – whether it’s between patients and their doctors, students and their professors, consumers and the businesses that serve them,” says Chris Reid, the executive vice president of Identity Solutions at Mastercard. “Our work in digital identity has been built on a framework of trust and partnership that keeps the consumer in control of their information.”