Attestations

Overview

An attestation is the act of confirming and certifying the validity of a claim or assertion, such as a statement, event, or even a legal document. This provides support for an assessor (a.k.a. verifier) to be able to confidently accept or reject a given claim that they are presented with.

Sign Protocol implements attestations as digitally signed structured data that adhere to a registered schema under a schema registry. These attestations are then stored in a secure domain, either on-chain or off-chain.

Attestations essentially reinforce the foundational trust systems we rely on to perform tasks in the world around us, and even on the web. Examples of these tasks encompass a range of activities such as the distribution of bounty rewards, the approval of loans, and the assignment of roles, among others.

The Evolution of Attestations: From Past to Present

The nature of attestations has significantly evolved over time, especially since the late 20th century with the advent and proliferation of computers, the internet, and information technology in general.

Historically, attestations have entailed the attester making an impression in wax, clay, paper, or some other medium with a sigil or emblem, which we came to refer to as a seal. This progressed into what we call a signature, a handwritten (typically stylized) depiction of the attester’s name, nickname, or other unique marking, on paper, to indicate identity and certification. An important aspect to note about the attestations in historical times is that the privilege to authenticate or certify anything was predominantly granted to individuals of royal or noble status.

Today, attestations have further transformed from handmade signatures on paper to a more bespoke and yet potent form: a set of structured data that has been coupled with a digital signature. This form of attestation is precisely what drives the work of Sign Protocol.

Building Blocks of an Attestation

An attestation that is created with Sign Protocol is composed of the following components:

  • Schema: This is the structure that defines the format and organization of data that is included in an attestation. You can think of this as the blueprint of an attestation.

  • Context: This is the set of details provided to add insights to the attestation. It can be likened to the actual labels of rooms on the blueprint.

  • Digital Signature: This entry certifies the authenticity of the attester’s identity. It typically leverages asymmetric cryptography.

  • Cryptographic Proofs: These are a set of mathematical and cryptographic primitives used to prove the integrity of data, and in some cases, without revealing the data itself. A popular example of this is zero-knowledge proofs.

Storing of Attestations

Attestations are submitted and stored in locations known as repositories. The accessibility of these repositories, whether public or private, is primarily determined by the type of platform used to host them.

Sign Protocol acknowledges and supports two types of platforms for hosting repositories:

  1. Blockchain Systems (a.k.a. Onchain)

These platforms possess certain attributes that provide strong guarantees and enhance the repository with desirable properties. They are characterized by several features:

  • Censorship-Resistance: They resist attempts to censor or suppress information.

  • Incentive Mechanisms: They encourage honest participation among operators.

  • Tamper-Resistance: They prevent illegal alterations.

  • Global and Permissionless Access: They allow anyone, anywhere in the world, to participate without needing permission.

  • Liveness: They ensure that the system continues to operate and update.

  • Global Consensus: They ensure agreement on the state of the system across all participants.

Typically, these platforms utilize distributed or shared ledgers to record and verify all updates made to the system. Their commitment to the principles of public and independently auditable access to information makes them suitable for repositories intended for public access.

Examples of these platforms include Ethereum, Optimism, Solana, and others.

  1. Data Storage and Information Exchange Systems (a.k.a. Offchain)

These platforms are designed with a strong focus on comprehensive data storage and information sharing. They offer robust features and convenient functionalities tailored to support high bandwidth requirements efficiently for storing, managing, and sharing data.

Key features of these systems include:

  • Comprehensive Data Storage and Information Sharing: These platforms are designed to support high bandwidth requirements efficiently for storing, managing, and sharing data.

  • Privacy-Preserving Measures and Data Protections: Many of these systems take pride in offering top-tier privacy-preserving measures and data protections, making them ideal for repositories intended for private access.

  • Public Data Accessibility: However, there are also systems in this category that concentrate on making data publicly accessible.

Examples of these platforms include Google Drive, iCloud, Torrents, Arweave, IPFS, and others.

Applications of Attestations

Attestations fundamentally serve as vehicles for confirming and certifying the credibility, authenticity, and in some cases, the validity of a claim or assertion. This function has proven to be valuable in several tasks and scenarios, some of which include, but are not limited to:

  • Credit Scoring Systems - A scoring system used by lenders and financial institutions to assess the worthiness (and potential risk) of a person, group, or business, to receive a loan or line of credit. When a borrowing entity makes or misses a payment, an attestation is made of the event which in turn serves as an indicator for the scoring system to update the scores for the entity. Examples include FICO, VantageScore, Experian’s CE Score, etc.

  • Reward Distribution System - A system used to recognize and distribute rewards, such as airdrops, salary bonuses, reduced service fees, etc., to a recipient for their outstanding performance, achievements, task completions, or contributions. When a potential recipient makes significant progress or completes a task, attestations are made to indicate the occurrence of the event. These reward distribution systems refer to these attestations to back their reasoning for distributing a reward. Examples include Coinbase Wallet Quests, DRiP, Binance Rewards Hub, etc.

  • Reputation System - A mechanism that is used to evaluate and recognize a wide range of entities, including businesses, products, services, locations, and individuals. This evaluation is based on feedback regarding the entity’s behavior made by an evaluator(or observer). Evaluators, such as restaurant health inspectors and travel agents, create attestations to confirm or debunk claims about the entity, all based on their experiences and insights gained from their interactions with said entity. This attestation is then used to establish the entity’s reputation. Examples include the systems used by eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Stack Exchange, etc.

  • Judicial System - A system that handles disputes by ascertaining and confirming the facts and details provided in a dispute claim, to determine the appropriate decision to resolve the case. Parties involved in this system, such as expert witnesses, fact witnesses, and even character witnesses, make attestations to either confirm or debunk the validity and accuracy of the claim made by a claimant (i.e., plaintiff). Examples include the US Federal Court System, Better Business Bureau, PayPal Dispute Center, etc.

Attestations serve as a crucial foundation that reinforces the trust systems of the world and web that we engage daily by making these systems verifiable and provably trustworthy. We are entering an exciting era where attestations will become a fundamental part of our lives. Sign Protocol is designed to be your ultimate tool, assisting you in navigating this new landscape.

To learn more about the value of attestations, check out our blog post: Attestations: A New Era of Trust and Verification.

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