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Trust over IP Foundation Introduces a New Tool for Interoperable Digital Trust

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When the ToIP Foundation launched in May 2020, our mission was to define a new model for achieving trust online—a model that breaks away from the thousands of siloed solutions for secure, privacy-enhancing digital identity and trust that do not work with each other. This lack of interoperability costs billions of dollars per year in complicated and time-consuming integration and hinders adoption by the very customers we are trying to serve.

Our goal is to drive adoption of a new model for digital trust based on open standard digital wallets and digital credentials that are every bit as interoperable as the physical wallets and paper or plastic credentials that we use every day—to do everything from getting on a plane to entering a hospital to signing a mortgage. As these new tools emerge as the primary mechanism for contactless identity verification, payments, and other online transactions, they will become as essential to our digital lives as browsers and email clients have become to the Web today.

As that happens, it is critical to avoid recreating the vendor-lock in and fragmentation of the “browser wars” that hindered the early days of the Web. Interoperable solutions that avoid vendor lock-in are paramount for a vibrant digital marketplace where consumers are free to choose their preferred digital wallet software from a variety of vendors and use digital credentials from any issuer as they choose.

The need for market-driven interoperability

Open standards alone do not produce interoperable market solutions—there are too many ways interoperability can still go off the rails. Testing labs are another step in the right direction—but vendors need incentives to use them, and those incentives can be scarce in a new market.

The ToIP Foundation recognized that, as our economy grows increasingly digital and collaboration tools grow steadily more powerful, there is a new path to interoperability: tapping market dynamics to drive incubation and adoption of truly interoperable solutions.

With this approach, vendors and customers voluntarily work together to develop interoperability testing requirements designed to meet explicit customer needs in the market. Vendors then satisfy those requirements by passing these interoperability tests with production-ready software.

Introducing the ToIP Interoperability Profile (TIP)

To facilitate this new approach to market-driven interoperability, the Technology Stack Working Group of the ToIP Foundation developed the ToIP Interoperability Profile (TIP). A TIP represents a specific combination of technologies that span each of the four layers of the ToIP technology stack in order to meet the requirements of a set of target customers in one or more digital trust ecosystems

TIPs can be designed, refined and supported by multiple vendors and customers wishing to collaborate on interoperability. A TIP typically includes the following elements critical to customer success:

  • Use cases capturing the specific requirements of customers in one or more digital trust ecosystems.
  • Design principles that must be clearly defined when combining technology and business policies to formulate a solution architecture. 
  • Documentation that clearly communicates the design, architecture, features, and benefits of a TIP to the digital trust ecosystems targeted for adoption.
  • Best practices and implementation guidance for adoption of a TIP, including how to incorporate policies from the ToIP governance stack.
  • Interoperability tests that enable vendors supporting the TIP to be certified for verifiable interoperability.
  • Adoption metrics and case study references that provide quantifiable evidence of the real market impact.

TIPs harness market forces to drive convergence on interoperability

Each TIP consists of two types of components:

  1. Fully-standardized components of the ToIP stack. These components, called ToIP Standard Specifications (TSS), are standards that have already gained Foundation-wide approval. 
  2. Custom components that are specific to a TIP. Some places in the ToIP stack do not yet have agreed-upon specifications. For these gaps, a TIP must specify how it fills the gap via an open community specification that can be implemented by any vendor or open source project.

A conceptual “lego block” picture of a complete four-layer TIP—showing how it is constructed from a combination of standard TSS components and custom TIP-specific components—is shown in the figure below.

Launching the Saturn-V TIP

The first TIP published by the ToIP Technology Stack Working Group is named for the historically significant multi-stage rocket platform, the Saturn-V. This TIP emerged from work begun at a 2019 Connect-a-Thon event held by the Hyperledger Indy community. When the ToIP Foundation was launched in May 2020, ToIP members including Commerzbank (Main-Incubator), esatus AG, Evernym, IBM, Trinsic and idRamp recognized the opportunity to coalesce their collaboration into a TIP. 

Once the ToIP Technology Stack Working Group was formed, it established the criteria for managing the lifecycle of TIP from incubation through design, demonstration, acceptance and adoption. The Saturn-V collaborators then proposed their TIP following this process and it was formally accepted as a Draft Deliverable by the Technology Stack Working Group at their 24 August 2020 meeting.

The next stage: mission-critical collaboration on interoperability testing

All the vendors participating in the Saturn-V TIP actively pair with developers from other participants to work through agreed-upon test plans. Having the Technology Stack Working Group oversee the TIP development life cycle on behalf of all participating vendors ensures a more transparent and robust joint testing project than a typical multi-vendor “plug-fest”. 

Since the technologies used for the Saturn-V TIP are Hyperledger Indy and Hyperledger Aries at layers 1-3 of the ToIP Technology Stack, the open source Aries Test suites will be used as the baseline for all test plans. Participating vendors are currently tackling the following stages of the Saturn-V Interop Test Plan One:

  • Self-Validation against Aries Protocol Test Suite for Aries Interop Profile v. 1.0
  • Peer-Validation
    • Core Aries Interop Profile v. 1.0 (Aries RFC 302), which supports DID connections, issuing credentials, and fulfilling proofs
    • Connectionless Proofs using the Service Decorator (Aries RFC 56),
    • HTTP over DIDComm (Aries RFC 348).

Future missions

Once Test Plan One is complete, TIP Participants will define Saturn-V Interop Test Plan Two which intends to minimally include peer-to-peer validation for:

Once these stages of interoperability testing are completed, the Technology Stack Working Group will be able to assess whether component specifications of this TIP meets the criteria to become a TSS. If so, these will be advanced to become their own Draft Deliverables for ultimate approval by the Working Group and then the ToIP Steering Committee.

Please join us

We invite you to join in development of the Saturn-V TIP and formulation of new TIPs that provide full-stack interoperability for digital trust ecosystems. If you are not yet a member of the ToIP Foundation, membership is open to anyone—individual or organization—at both free and paid membership levels. For more information, please visit the Foundation membership page.

TIP development is coordinated through the ToIP Technology Stack Working Group

To join the Technology Stack Working Group, go to https://lists.trustoverip.org/, log in with the email address of your ToIP Foundation membership, then subscribe to the mailing list.