Gataca’s Verifiable Route to Financial Identity Confirmation and Security

To navigate today’s digital world, individuals must create dozens of accounts within government agencies, financial services, and other institutional systems that require them to consign sensitive personal data to large centralized hubs. Despite using the latest methods of secure identity validation, however, these frequent targets of identity theft cost global businesses about $45 billion annually. “They concentrate so much sensitive information,” Irene Hernández, MBA ’18, explained at the 2018 MIT delta v Demo Day, “that they become honeypots for hackers.”

Hence Gataca, a technology startup dedicated to overcoming the inability of traditional authentication systems to better secure offline credentials online. After joining the MIT Media Lab in 2017 to study the rise of identity fraud and how blockchain might help fight back, Hernández realized that decentralized computing was capable of greater security, more efficiency, and less risk. How? By giving control of personal data back to the users.

“Consumers will have one single digital identity that all the different service providers will use to access the information they need,” says Hernández. Instead of multiple accounts with numerous vendors, Gataca stores all credentials—driver’s license, passport, academic certificate—in a single digital ID wallet. “These credentials respond to recent global standards,” she adds, “but they are also cryptographically verifiable.” In other words, a Gataca user’s digital ID wallet will be easily accessible and tightly secured through cryptography and biometrics.

Thanks to the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund and the MIT delta v accelerator, the company is already putting this concept into practice as one of the few providers in the world with a working product. In early 2020, Gataca partnered with two major national governmental organizations in Europe to develop their first blockchain-based, decentralized identity certificate. Hopefully, this collaboration will lead to greater acceptance of the new technology by government agencies and the private sector.

“In order to roll out this project now, you need a really strong industry with a strong interest in making this happen,” Hernández explains. “That’s the financial industry.” More traditional financial institutions have struggled to meet expensive know your customer (KYC) compliances, improve user experience, and secure customer data—so they’re on the lookout for something new. With Gataca’s decentralized identity architecture and verification, they could solve all three problems simultaneously.

Learn more about Gataca in this episode of Sloanies Talking with Sloanies.