What did we fail to account for in the design of the Internet? As the CTO of Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC), I would be expected to say security. It’s not. Frankly, if security had been built into the fabric of the Internet it would have curtailed its rapid growth and many of the conveniences we enjoy today. Instead, I would have factored in identity.
Since its beginnings in the early 90s, the Internet has introduced a whole new set of words to our lexicon, like blogging, phishing, and spam; changed the way we interact, allowing people to share ideas across international boundaries in a matter of seconds; and altered the very way we purchase goods, pay bills, and even listen to music. In short, it has permeated almost every aspect of our daily lives.
Today, we have business models ranging from online banking to e-commerce that are dependent on the Internet, an infrastructure built on a platform of anonymity. With nearly $200 billion in U.S. e-commerce transactions taking place on this infrastructure, it’s no wonder dishonest behavior has emerged. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the lack of an identity layer for serious financial gain, and the result is declining trust and confidence online.
This is not an easy problem to tackle.
In fact, it is hard to create the kind of trust you have in the physical world in the online world. For example, in the real world we have visual and auditory clues to identify who we are interacting with; in the cyber world the old New Yorker cartoon is true: On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.
So assuming we do create an identity layer for the Internet, what value does that provide? How, exactly, would identity allow for greater collaboration, or the ability to offer differentiated, premium online services?
Since identification is at the start of every relationship -- between individuals, among businesses and people -- identity and reputation are key to the continuation of every relationship. When businesses have a richer understanding of what their customers like, what they want, and when they want it, only then are truly personalized experiences and premium services possible.
With an identity-enabled Internet, exciting new areas for innovation emerge. For example, in the healthcare industry, privacy is critical and confidential medical information is on a need-to-know basis. And yet, imagine how identity services can assist the aging in a digital home environment. Being able to share sensitive, up-to-the-minute medical data with certain family members, doctors, and specialists can drastically improve home-based healthcare.
Similarly, how about ensuring the protection and validity of data collected in online drug trials? During these trials it is important that doctors remain anonymous in order not to bias the data. However, the data should still be traceable back to credentialed doctors approved to participate in a particular drug trial program.
Social networking sites are already under scrutiny to offer more protection to children from online predators. When individuals can assert claims about their age without any verification, it becomes difficult to determine who is really on the other end of the line. Networking sites like Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) and MySpace could utilize an identity service to create a differentiated "space" where real identities are validated to ensure there are no imposters. This would be a valuable, premium service that many parents would eagerly pay for to ensure their 14-year-old daughter isn’t unknowingly interacting with a 40-year-old man.
Even identity-validated email services would be attractive. Imagine ensuring that only email from individuals with “real,” validated identities could be delivered. No spammer or cybercriminal would wittingly hand over any information that could incriminate them or their fraudulent behavior. This would result in a substantial reduction in spam and threats propagated by email.
In the end, demand will shape and drive the market value for premium services, but only if we can infuse an identity solution into the Internet. Solving this will not only root out bad behavior and make people more accountable for their actions -- it will help to reaffirm the trust and confidence needed to continue fueling our digital economy.
— Mark Bregman, CTO, Symantec Corp.