Advanced School for Computing and Imaging (ASCI)

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Delft University of Technology
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2628 XE – DELFT, The Netherlands

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Systems for Digital Self-Sovereignty

Systems for Digital Self-Sovereignty

Author : Quinten André Stokkink
Promotor(s) : D.H.J. Epema / J. Pouwelse
University : Delft University of Technology
Year of publication : 2024
Link to repository : TU Delft Research Repository


The digital world is evolving toward representing – and serving the interconnection of – natural persons. Instead of depending on the intrastructure of Big Tech companies and governments, users can cooperate and use their hardware to form public infrastructure. Instead of existing by virtue of a reference in some institution’s database, users can interact based on a digital representation of their own choosing. It is no longer sufficient to depend on users to act out of system-imposed altruism. A new digital world is emerging that aims to provide systems that respect the rights of users to control their own digital representation. The complete control over one’s own representation and all the data that belongs to it is what we know as Self-Sovereignty.

Solutions for digital Self-Sovereignty are wildly sought after, though their solution space remains woefully underexplored. Numerous global entities, e.g., the European Union, have stated their support for Self-Sovereign systems. However, many old problems of peer-to-peer systems that have gone ignored for decennia resurge with the need for Self-Sovereignty. For example, interconnections in peer-to-peer networks are vulnerable to attacks using fake identities and attackers can manipulate peers by depriving them of data. As most deployed peer-to-peer solutions have very little incentive for disruption by attackers, we have seen very few attacks. However, cryptocurrencies have shown that these attacks do surface when there is sizable monetary gain for attackers. In order to secure our future digital society, we must define and study these systems for Self-Sovereignty.

In this thesis we take the first steps toward defining the systems that can power a Self-Sovereign “Web3” ecosystem. In particular, we explore systems that apply Self-Sovereignty for identity, for public infrastructure, and for the execution of shared code. We describe four prototype mechanisms to form a guide for future work and to derive their general properties. Each mechanism is evaluated as realistically as possible. Thereby, this thesis mostly fulfills an exploratory role to guide the further evolution of our digital world.