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  • Updated: March 25, 2021

Microsoft Kicks Off ION On Bitcoin Network

Microsoft Kicks Off ION On Bitcoin Network

Microsoft on Thursday announced that its Decentralized Identity team has launched the ION Decentralized Identifier (DID) network on the Bitcoin mainnet.

This network is a layer 2 technology similar to Lightning except that instead of focusing on payments it uses Bitcoin’s blockchain to create digital IDs for authenticating identity online.

“A DID identifies any subject (e.g., a person, organization, thing, data model, abstract entity, etc.) that the controller of the DID decides that it identifies,” said Microsoft in a document explaining the technology.

“We are excited to share that [version 1] of ION is complete and has been launched on Bitcoin mainnet. We have deployed an ION node to our production infrastructure and are working together with other companies and organizations to do so as well. ION does not rely on centralized entities, trusted validators, or special protocol tokens. ION answers to no one but you, the community,” Microsoft’s Daniel Bucnher writes in a blog post

ION relies on a node system and gets stronger as the number of participants increases. As noted by Buchner, ION is open source, so anyone can download the code and run an ION node to use the service.

The ION website explains thus: “ION is a decentralized Layer 2 network for Decentralized Identifiers that runs atop the Bitcoin blockchain. Running an ION node minimizes trust in external parties for resolving ION DIDs, helps make the network more resilient and reliable and provides the operator with better DID resolution performance.”

Open to the public after being in closed beta since June 2020, ION uses the same logic as Bitcoin’s transaction layers to sign off on identity. A public key and its associated private key are used to verify that a user owns an ID.

For example, to log into your email or social media in a world that uses ION, you would verify you own your account by “signing” your DID with your ION account. Thanks to the cryptographic links that ION creates to Bitcoin, the ION network would verify for the service provider that you own the ID associated with your account. 

Any personal data (name, age, etc) tied to that ID is stored off-chain, depending on the service. ION’s IDs are anchored to Bitcoin’s blockchain using the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) protocol, and ION nodes can process up to 10,000 ID requests in a single transaction.

Users can create and manage multiple IDs with different keys for different services. Some of these may be used recurrently to log into services that users access daily including email and social media or could be used in one-off ways such as verifying concert or event tickets. 

The project appears to have had considerable developmental firepower behind it, with Casa, Gemini, and BitPay among several others being listed as contributors to its Sidetree protocol.

Being a major step toward decentralizing identification, it is also a sign of a keen interest in Bitcoin by Microsoft. DIDs may have a major impact on the industry if a large network of entities utilizing the system forms.

“For us, Bitcoin was a necessary condition for success,” project lead Daniel Buchner told Bitcoin Magazine in 2020. “When we started crunching the numbers, we realized that Bitcoin was the only chain that would probably be too costly to attack.”

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