Why digital certificates could soon become part of everyday life

At the latest, the corona vaccination certificate has shown how vital counterfeit-proof digital evidence is. Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) recognized this before the pandemic. She wanted to apply the same technology that keeps cryptocurrencies secure to testimonials. Two years ago, Karliczek presented the “IMPact Digital” project as part of the grand coalition’s blockchain strategy. One goal: to be able to share digital certificates in applications or on the smartphone securely and to be able to verify them at the same time. Because experts estimate that about every third application contains incorrect information. However, what went very quickly with the vaccination certificate does not seem to be getting off the ground with the forgery-proof certificate.

The project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education (BMBF) and led by the Technical University of Lübeck has already developed a practical application. A blockchain plugin is available to interested universities and other educational institutions as open-source software, which they use to create and check digital certificates. “An online training course was specially developed for this purpose,” explains Stefanie Bock from the Institute for Interactive Systems at Lübeck University of Applied Sciences.

According to news published  for understanding the nft, the advantages of the technology are obvious. “A blockchain offers the possibility of storing data records in a distributed network in such a way that they can no longer be changed later or can only be changed according to precisely defined rules. For example, universities, but also employers, can immediately check the authenticity of the evidence presented.” The TH Lübeck itself issued its forgery-proof certificates on the Internet for the first time in April 2020 and has issued around 800 of them to date. “The technology works,” assures Bock.

Blockchain vs. PDF

However, it did not generate much interest. Even elite universities of international standing, such as the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, have only issued their certificates in paper form. If you want to share them digitally, you must use a scanner. Moreover, security concerns are often an argument against the new technology. “Paradoxically, it would be much safer, especially for data protection reasons, not to send documents back and forth by e-mail, as is still often the case, but to store them completely digitally in a controllable environment – such as on the blockchain.”

“Even if everyone has heard of the blockchain, very few have an understanding of the technology and its possibilities,” he says. “Furthermore, it’s no secret that skepticism about new technologies is higher here in Germany than in Anglo-Saxon countries.” It is also common practice there to check the information provided by applicants by calling previous employers. In Germany, on the other hand, applicants would traditionally enclose a bundle of documents as evidence from the outset, says Eichhof: “That’s enough for many companies.”

When you talk to HR experts, you get the impression that fake references are not a big issue for employers in this country. They primarily rely on personal interviews and careful application rounds to unmask brazen liars. “Within Germany, the problem is, in fact, secondary,” admits Monique Janneck.  But the universities are required to issue digital certificates. “And, of course, these need also be harmless.” The pressure comes with a deadline: The Online Access Act (OZG) stipulates that citizens and companies must be able to use all administrative services at the federal, state, and municipal levels easily and securely online by the end of 2022. “It is assumed,

Data protection for digital certificates

Two things will be of primary importance: security and data protection. They can conflict with forgery-proof blockchain certificates because the technology is precisely secure because the information there cannot be removed. However, this conflicts with the General Data Protection Regulation, which grants every person control over their personal information. “Since you cannot delete data, no personal data should be stored on a blockchain because you cannot implement the right to deletion,” explains Wolfgang Prinz, deputy head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT. The original certificate is not stored on the blockchain to solve the problem.

This detour also makes the technology easier to implement. The certificate contains the name and possibly the date of birth. However, they do not need a verified digital identity but identify themselves with an ID card if necessary. Although this is more cumbersome in practice, it does not require a sophisticated digital infrastructure. “This corresponds to the procedure we know from the vaccination certificate,” explains Prinz.