Can we break biometric data into anonymised bits? Anonybit says yes

Monday 14 March 2022 08:31 CET | Editor: Alin Popa | Interview

Frances Zelazny, the founder of Anonybit, explains what decentralised biometrics is and why is this topic so relevant for the digital economy

Frances, thank you for accepting an interview with us. You have such vast experience in growing and transforming companies, could you please tell us what is Anonybit, and how does your professional background tie into the company’s story?

Anonybit has developed the first fully decentralised biometrics infrastructure, used to ensure strong authentication without maintaining central honeypots of personal data.

We currently have three product offerings, which include:
  • A decentralised biometrics cloud for biometric solution and identity service providers to use with their algorithms and build privacy-preserving identity solutions;

  • Turnkey decentralised biometric authentication and MFA for enterprises and embedded partners;

  • A digital asset vault that decentralises and stores private keys, backup passphrases, crypto assets, etc., and uses biometric authentication for retrieval to ensure that only the authorised user has access to these assets.

I have been in the industry for a long time and over the course of my career, I’ve helped other founders grow and transform their companies, creating a wealth of possibilities for nascent ideas that needed to blossom and shine. Now the time has come for me to step into the founder role and bring my passion and know-how into a space that I know intimately well, working with people that have a proven track record, and to address a long-standing problem that has enormous societal implications – that is, how our personal data is stored and managed.

How can we decentralise sensitive data like biometrics?

For years, the biometrics industry and major stakeholders have looked for ways to decentralise sensitive data and avoid honeypots of information that can be stolen. Solutions such as blockchain are being stood up to address specific use cases. However, when it comes to biometrics, the most critical and sensitive PII, all attempts at true decentralisation have failed. 

As a way to circumvent the problem, practitioners have turned to biometrics that are already stored on user devices (i.e., FaceID or TouchID), accepting a yes/no signal from the device itself on whether a person is who they claim to be. The problem with this is that the device is not bound to a specific identity, so it is impossible to know who is really conducting the transaction, and the fallback when there is a failure is a passcode! Attackers continue to successfully exploit these loopholes as demonstrated by continued losses attributed to identity theft.

Another way that was examined was to decentralise biometric data on the blockchain. The problem here is that the data needs to also be processed, not just stored because once the biometric data is split up, bringing it back for matching has created computational issues, long response times, and specifically with blockchain, the inability to delete.

Anonybit’s breakthrough is that we can do both the storage and the processing in a distributed manner. We have leveraged multiparty computing and zero-knowledge proofs in a proprietary manner in order to achieve our goal.

The way it works is to break up biometric data into anonymised bits (hence the name Anonybit!) and distribute these bits into a peer-to-peer network of nodes where they reside and are never retrieved, even for matching. This approach can also be used to store other digital assets like private keys for blockchain applications, backup passphrases, etc.

Why is the topic of decentralised biometrics so hot now?

Biometrics have recently become part of our daily lives and the collection and dependency of this type of data along with personal data (PII) in general, have become critical to our digital interactions. It is almost impossible to do anything these days without forking over some personal information and the question of who has our PII and what they do with it is becoming more and more urgent every day. Partly due to emerging data protection regulations and partly due to consumer demands for answers, data is becoming a hot potato that no one wants to own yet is central to doing business. 

In the meantime, data breaches continue unabated. In fact, with ransomware attacks hitting critical infrastructure at an alarming rate, data breaches, leaks at an all-time high, 2021 was open season for attackers and recent events have increased cybersecurity concerns exponentially. 

Fraudsters of course will go where the money is, but the real reason this is happening goes to the heart of how personal data is managed and secured.  The classic approach to securing sensitive data involves strengthening the security around it - either controlling access to a database and/or encrypting the information in it, but clearly, the continued hacks and data breaches demonstrate that these approaches leave a lot to be desired.

Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other blockchain applications have demonstrated how decentralisation frameworks can provide greater democratisation, privacy, and equity and decentralisation will become a key feature of the metaverse.

What would a European digital identity wallet connected to a decentralised biometrics solution look like? What about a digitised euro/CBDC?

Anonybit is a perfect complement to digital identity wallets. Our technology stores the private key for recovery and access. It enables biometric authentication for the verifiable credentials without compromising on the main principles of decentralisation, democratisation, and user control. The backend database of the issuer can also decentralised – minimising the opportunity for potential breaches at that level as well. 

What is on Anonybit’s agenda for 2022?

In 2022, we plan to grow exponentially. We will accelerate our market penetration and focus on enhancing the capabilities for the three offerings mentioned above, which will ease deployment and address more use cases. 

And lastly, the tech industry is usually dominated by men, how did you overcome this aspect? What advice would you give to women who aspire for similar roles?

I never gave much thought to my gender and the role it would play in my career. I’ve always been the only woman in the room, so I was more focused on doing what I had to do to get the job done. Throughout my career, I have worked at many startups, which are, by definition, more flexible, but can be more demanding in many ways. For example, I have been working from home long before the pandemic made it the norm. All in all, though, I’d like to believe my grit, integrity, and ingenuity, coupled with the support of many mentors and my family, led me to where I am today. 

To women who aspire for future roles, just go for it! It’s important to acknowledge we aren’t alone in the challenges we face, both professionally and personally. Forge a path, seek out mentors, put yourself out there, and most importantly, let your voice be heard. 

About Frances Zelazny 

Frances Zelazny is Co-Founder & CEO of Anonybit, a decentralised biometrics infrastructure (not blockchain!) that is breaking new ground in the area of user privacy and digital security. Since her early days in identity management, Frances has been an outspoken advocate for consumer privacy and the responsible use of biometric data. 


Free Headlines in your E-mail

Every day we send out a free e-mail with the most important headlines of the last 24 hours.

Subscribe now

Keywords: digital identity, biometric authentication, data sharing, online authentication
Categories: Fraud & Financial Crime
Countries: World
This article is part of category

Fraud & Financial Crime