Digital Certificates are needed now more than ever
By Irene Mutuzo
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, half of humanity being on lockdown seemed like an implausible situation. Today, this seems like the “new normal” for the majority of the World Population with over 100 countries having instituted either a full or partial lockdown by December 2020. Although this anomaly has aided in slowing down the spread of the COVID-19 contagion, it has also disrupted many sectors, especially the education sector.
Between March and August this year, education institutions all over the world had been temporarily closed and almost uncertain on when to resume. This not only disrupted the students’ education, but also the ability for institutions to issue certificates to their graduates.
In the words of one University Academic Registrar,
“During the lockdown, I got quite many requests from my students who needed original certificates or their certificates verified for employment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help them; my hands were tied especially when the whole country was under a total lockdown and no movements were allowed for almost 2 months. Today, my institution is partially opened and my office, as always, is among the busiest with so many people coming in and out. In spite of the SOPs in place, I am always anxious when I report to work. I worry about exposing myself and those I interact with to the virus. I really wish there was a safe and secure way I could help my students.”
Despite the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has presented to many institutions as explained above, it has expedited the digital era; giving birth to many innovations solving present and future challenges. This is where Diwala comes in.
Diwala is a Norwegian, New York, and Ugandan based technology company (www.diwala.io) born from a U.N. Women hackathon in Norway, that provides a digital platform backed by blockchain technology. The Skill Provider platform allows institutions, trainers, or skill providers to safely and quickly issue digital certificates to their graduates; employers to quickly verify these certificates online, and graduates to easily access their verifiable certificates online anywhere at any time whether or not they have smartphones.
What exactly is a digital certificate?
A digital certificate, or in the technical world called verifiable credential (VC), is not the usually scanned copy of papers received from the university.
It is a digital proof of your visual certificate, and it contains data that follows wherever the certificate is shared. Data such as who issued the certificate, for what, at what time, and to whom.
Look at a verifiable credential like a package of data, containing data schemes, identifiers, and cryptographic signatures. The identifiers in the “data package” are the issuers and the holders of the data, and the data is signed by those identifiers with cryptographic signatures. All this data is “embedded” into the package/i.e credential”, and cannot be changed or altered. In our case, the issuer will be the institution giving a digital credential of some sort of training. The holder would be the student receiving and sharing their credentials and the verifier would be a potential employer or anyone who needs to verify attributes about you.
In a Verifiable Credential, all these identifiers are represented by a unique id and a digital key. The private key is held by Diwala in an encrypted format until the users are ready to take over that responsibility and hold it on their own. On the blockchain, there is a public representation of this key, which is how we can connect the cryptographic signature to the identifier inside the Verifiable Credential.
The mathematical security of this technology allows various identifiers to securely exchange data between each other, across networks, being absolutely sure of who sent it.
In order to verify someone’s documentation today, employers will in most cases have to ask the institution for verification. But the beauty of a digital certificate is that this information is available for employers within the digital certificate itself. Employers can safely know this information was given by the institution, as the information within the credential is connected to the institution’s public identifier and signed officially by them. Digital certificates not only provide more security to the institutions but integrity to their brand and reputation.
We need digital certificates today, because lack of trust in information, leads to time-consuming and costly verification processes for people, employers, and recruiters. On the African continent, it costs an average from $5 – $15 to verify a document and can take 3–6 months. Organizations are spending hundreds of hours yearly on the administration of documents, losing time and money. Educators experience corruption and need a safe and efficient way to issue certificates.
Diwala’s digital certificates are connected to Skill Identities
Our Diwala skill Identity app works as your personal Key and identifier but is also a new way of storing and keeping a person’s certificates safe. Today people are unfortunately not in “control” or have full ownership of their documents. Should they lose them, they will have to get in touch with the 3rd parties or institutions that issued them.
We at Diwala are working to give that control back to the user, by giving them skill identities to better interact with their documents, and allow other parties to verify those documents easily. They can always access their digital certificates in our Skill Identity application, and in the future, any app that supports Verifiable Credentials. They can share them securely and efficiently. They can also retrieve their certificates, even if they lose their phone.
By issuing Diwala skill identities to African talent, we are building an ecosystem of trust. A skill identity is a new way of showcasing one’s verified skills, education & work history. The information within the Skill Identity is always authentic and traceable back to its authentic source when using digital identities and blockchain technology. This service will build a bridge for global work opportunities for untapped talent and combat invalid certification processes.
The Deed of signing
In today’s world, It is easy to copy a piece of paper, and so is copying a signature, unfortunately. Some of the methods we use to add our signature on documents today are in theory not legit. For example, pasting a picture of a signature on a piece of paper. The deed of “Signing” the document has not been made by the actual person in many cases. Signing, in definition, means the action of writing one’s signature on an official document. If the action does not occur, and not by you — is it even legit?
We at Diwala want to make our cryptographic signatures as authentic and legitimate as possible and similar to our day to day signatures backed with secure technology. We have therefore just launched a new feature that allows you to make a digital handwritten representation of your signature in addition to your cryptographic signature. We have made this feature, because even though cryptographic signatures are the most secure today — not all people have awareness of this, and will still only trust a signature that looks visually written to them, as in a signature made up of code and numbers.
Using a smartphone, our new feature allows the institution/skill provider signatory to sign as they would on any normal paper, using instead their finger on the phone screen. Their digital crypto-graphical signature will then appear on the certificates issued, along with their digitally handwritten one, connected to a digital Identity, inside a verifiable credential.
It is now also possible to have up to 2 people represented on their certificates!
As you can see, digital certificates present various benefits to institutions and their graduates in terms of issuing, transferring, and verifying data. Now Let’s Look into some more benefits:
Minimising physical contact
Now more than ever is the time for institutions to devise means of reducing the physical contact and transactions made. With digital certificates, academic registrars no longer have to worry about this as they can now issue graduates certificates without having to come in contact with them. Students can receive their certificates wherever they are and employees can also verify these certificates without having to send any documents or making any physical trips to the institutions.
Due to the fact that digital certificates are digitally encrypted and cannot be altered unless all parties (the issuer and recipient) have agreed and are involved, these types of certificates challenge forgery or alteration. An institution can therefore be guaranteed the security and integrity of the certificates they issue. Employers can also have confidence in the authenticity of the credentials they receive for verification.
Revolutionize efficiency in administration work
From printing designed certificates to taking the time to sign them, many institutions incur a lot of time and costs to issue certificates to their graduates. With digital certificates, institutions do not have to worry about printing costs or too much time spent on signing certificates. With a click, an academic registrar can now sign and issue over 1000 certificates at once.
Keep certificates safe
Every graduate’s nightmare is having their academic documents burnt or lost especially when they need to urgently apply for a job or attend an interview. With digital certificates, all a graduate needs are log-in details to their Diwala digital identity App where they can access their original digital credentials sent straight from their institution anywhere at any time.
Institutions, especially the academic registrar’s office can now become paperless. By adopting the Diwala platform and issuing digital certificates, any institution will be well ahead in spearheading the Go Green campaign and protecting their environment.
As we move to a more digital society, so must most of our processes. We can see the importance of this now, especially with COVID-19. We have to ensure that our digital processes run efficiently, smoothly, as well as securely.
If you are a skill provider or institution reading this; now that you have an understanding of what digital certificates and their benefits are, let Diwala help your institution to not only adapt to the changes the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us, but to also evolve into the future with digital certificates.