In this three-part series, we take a closer look at each of the finalists and their story in the words of the founder(s). Presented below, is a Q&A with Alex Moss, the Founder and CEO of Web3Fied. You can hear more from Alex, and the other finalists on The CyberWire Daily Podcast (Ep 1694, Oct 31, 2022).
Q&A with Vinu Thomas, Founder and CEO
Q: Tell us about your background.
I was born in India but most of my formative years were split between India and Bahrain (a small country in the Middle East). My dad had a traveling job and that exposed me to different cultures, people, cuisines, and lifestyles. I still consider traveling one of my passions and I learn a lot during my travels. After finishing my engineering degree from Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, in India in the late 90s, I joined a small startup as one of their first engineers, building out India’s first private Internet Service Provider. That opportunity paved the way for me to move to the United States and work for another service provider building new capabilities during the dot com era in the early 2000s. In a short time, the entrepreneurial bug hit me, and I started my first venture in cyber security consulting and services. In 2005, we sold to Sirius Computer Solutions (now CDW) a large VAR and MSSP. I stayed on and built on my security business unit and eventually took it to $100M running a nationwide business. In 2011, I exited to jump onto another exciting opportunity at a company called Bluewater which then was acquired by a large national solutions provider called Presidio. At Presidio, I became the CTO and helped the company evolve from just their networking and security focus to cloud, cyber security, modernizing applications and IoT. In 2017, we took the company public with a $3B IPO on NASDAQ. As the CTO of Presidio, I led the engineering, technical sales, marketing, and investor relations for the company with a team of 1600 people and $2B P&L. In 2021, after completing a go-private process for Presidio, I exited the company as I wanted to get back to my entrepreneurial roots. After finishing my executive education at Wharton, I decided to embark on some travel and that’s when a series of events led to the birth and formation of Web3Fied Inc.
Q: Tell us about your business/idea.
Web3fied is a SaaS platform providing verified digital identity and digital attributes using decentralized ledger and smart contracts for added security and privacy.
A little bit on how I came up with this idea. Behind every app, every device, and every single connection... is identity. Yet, everyone knows someone who has had an identity breach. Every day we hear about a breach, or we get a letter about a compromised server that often offers a free credit monitoring service. Last year alone 297M people were breached and the total cost of security breaches was a staggering $50B. In addition to breaches and identity loss, the creation of fake credentials or attributes (think driver’s license, degree certificates, SSN, passport etc.) has become a huge problem. There has been a 47% rise in fake credentials, and these are used for everything from hacking (Uber attack), to ransomware attacks, to nefarious activities like terrorism and fraud.
The root cause for this lies in
- E-mail or social media being used as a unique ID or validator
- No identity validation and “Blind Signing”
- Centralized identity solutions being a target for hackers
- Increasing complexity for storing, managing and security identities.
Web3Fied has created a better way to solve the identity management challenge by leveraging a verifiable, decentralized identity management solution that also provides verifiable digital assets.
We are a startup, still in stealth, aiming to disrupt this market by using distributed ledgers and smart contracts (Blockchain). Some of the key features of our product include:
- API/SDK based solution on the server side; Mobile first on the consumer side
- Verified identity (KYC/BYOW) and digital credentials on top of blockchain
- Digital wallet and PKI on blockchain
For example, using our solution, a healthcare facility can augment their existing portal technology like “MyChart” by asking users to verify themselves. The users will have to go through additional steps to verify their identity. This process is also called KYC (Know Your Customer) and is widely used in the financial world. Once verified, they are asked to download and login to an app through which all digital attributes or documents like their test results, vaccine certificates can be exchanged. All the digital attributes are also signed to ensure the integrity of the asset. All this information is stored as metadata on the blockchain for easy audit and tracking purposes.
Q: What was the original inspiration for your company/product?
During one of my trips outside the country, I was asked several times for my passport and other documents containing sensitive information for identity verification. Around the same time, I received communication from two retailers who mentioned that they had suffered security breaches resulting in the exposure of my identity and personal information including email address, birth date, SSN, physical address etc.
It occurred to me that
- The breaches were because of a centralized identity verification system.
- E-mail or social media login has become the username.
- Businesses do not validate “identity”.
- Multi Factor Authentication is not adequate.
- “Identity” leads to other security attacks like phishing, ransomware etc.
I started exploring a solution for these issues which led me to the blockchain world of distributed ledger and smart contracts. My exposure to the Web3 world and their mechanism of crypto wallets led me to believe that I could combine the crypto wallet technology with the underlying distributed ledger system of blockchain to solve the identity validation and credentials verification challenges. An initial POC was conducted at New York University to test the hypotheses and we started talking to a few early-stage customers in the healthcare and financial verticals.
This was the inspiration to create Web3Fied (Verified Trust in a Zero-Trust World). To maximize adoption, we created an API/SDK solution as it minimizes disruption and can be easily integrated to existing solutions. Identity has always been a fragmented market with multiple solutions and complete disruption has not been successful. By inserting validation of an existing identity and making it decentralized, we hope to slowly disrupt this market and make it far more secure.
Q: What's your vision for the future ... “What will the market you are pursuing look like in 5-10 years?”
The identity management market is ripe for disruption. There has been a lot of talk about federated identity management, meanwhile most of it is still centralized which has become a huge target for hackers. The global identity management market is estimated to be close to $50B by 2027. Web3Fied is looking to disrupt this space with our decentralized approach to identity management including verified digital identity and assets.
The Web3Fied solution uses a combination of crypto wallets, asymmetric PKI and biometrics in addition to decentralized ledgers and smart contracts (blockchain) to provide verified identity and assets. We also beleive this decentralized identity system will eventually evolve into the world of self-sovereign identity or SSI. Once a user has been associated with a wallet, the user can control what level of information they want to provide back to the business. Wallets can also be used for “passwordless” logins integrating with Apple Passkeys as an example. Privacy controls can be put in place bringing private information back to the consumer. This decentralized ID and SSI market is expected to reach $100B by 2030. Apple and Google are positioning their native wallet solutions to be part of the solution, aiding in user adoption.
As an example, today, if someone buys a drink at a bar or at the store, they must show proof of age, which is usually a driver’s license or other government issued ID. Yet all that is required to be verified is just the person’s age. A typical driver’s license contains 10+ pieces of confidential information, all being exposed whenever it is used as an ID. This is not to mention all the fake driver’s licenses in circulation. Using the Web3Fied wallet solution integrated with Apple Wallet, an attribute or asset can be created that shows a photo ID (photo with the name and age) which can be verified by anyone using a QR code reader. Since the information is stored on the blockchain, it cannot be hacked or modified easily. In addition, the user has control on what information needs to be shown. This same scenario can be expanded into passport control, visas, voter IDs, etc.
Q: How does your business address pressing cyber and data challenges for the commercial sector?
Identity is the gateway to a digital experience. Yet that very compromised identity is one of the top security issues in 2021. Once the identity has been compromised, fake credentials or attributes can be issued which leads to further cyber security challenges and costs. This is a very serious cyber and data challenge in the commercial sector impacting almost 300M people and costing over $50B in damages. Web3Fied addresses the root cause of this by providing a platform for verified digital identity and associated credentials.
Some of the key features of our product
- API/SDK based solution (think Stripe for Web3-based digital identity) on the server side
- Mobile first on the consumer side
- Validated Identity (KYC/BYOW) + Verifiable digital credentials on top of Blockchain
- Digital Wallet and PKI on Blockchain (use one wallet to login)
- Immutable, Secure and Flexible Distributed ledger and smart contract system
- Mobile and web-based tool allows instant verification of identity and authenticity
Q: What attracted you to the DataTribe Foundry? Why did you choose to participate in the DataTribe Challenge?
One of the first things about DataTribe was that they were cyber security focused. They knew the technology, had a great understanding of the current cyber challenges and the market landscape. I was introduced to DataTribe through my network and board of mentors which really helped as well.
The startup world is not for the faint of heart and you need all the advice you can get. Money and funding are important but at an early stage, product market fit is very important. It was clear that the DataTribe team understood early stage startups and they had a great line of thinking and asked the right questions. All of this helps when refining product market fit. At the same time, they had some great suggestions, and their network was always available for questions and advice. The DataTribe Challenge also exposes you to a wide range of industry experts thereby helping you build your network.
Q: What’s your long-term vision for your business?
Web3Fied will be the standard for decentralized Identity, verifiable credentials, and Self Sovereign Identity. We will get there by leveraging an API platform with wallets, PKI, and biometrics. In addition, we will provide the easy verification required for digital attributes and assets like digital SSN, passport, driver’s license, university certificates, health records, voter IDs, etc.
By bringing unique technology that works today in the Web3 space into the current Web2.0 world, we believe we can solve important cyber security challenges while providing a platform for migrating into the Web3 and Metaverse world.