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Digital Trust is Foundational for the Internet Today – And Tomorrow

This guest post was contributed by Jason Sabin, CTO at DigiCert.

Jason Sabin, CTO at DigiCert

It’s hard to imagine life before the internet. What was once a way for computers to communicate with each other has changed the world. The internet is now essential to everyday communication. It has transformed the way we work, the way we socialize, the way we stay informed, and the list goes on.

As the internet has grown and evolved into places we once never envisioned, the importance of digital trust has become increasingly clear as the connectivity the internet is based on has also changed.

With this in mind, the US Government recently issued the Declaration for the Future of the Internet along with 60 country partners around the globe. The declaration recognizes the internet's transformative role and is dedicated to "a positive vision for the Internet." It seeks to address current opportunities and challenges worldwide and pledges to support an internet that is "open, free, global, interoperable, reliable and secure."

Core to the statement are several principles, including the protection of people's basic rights and freedoms, the promotion of the free flow of information, and the provision of affordable connectivity for all. However, the most significant principles in the declaration are the commitment to "promote trust in the global digital ecosystem, including through protection of privacy" and to "protect and strengthen the multistakeholder approach to governance that keeps the internet running for the benefit of all." These principles highlight the importance of digital trust and the need to ensure that the internet remains a safe and secure platform for all users.

The Role of Digital Trust in Digital Transformation

The events of the last three years have fundamentally changed the business landscape and the technology we use for business as well. And just as the internet was once an unknown concept, so too was the term “digital transformation.” But what a difference a few years can make. The term "digital transformation" is commonly used in 2023. It refers to the adoption of digital technology to digitize non-digital products, services or operations in the name of innovation and efficiency.

Because of the digital interactions that have become a part of every aspect of personal and professional life, driven by the convergence of IT and operational technology, we have seen significant changes in the way technology enables us to live and work. In fact, research from Information Service Group (ISG) finds the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated enterprise digital transformation by three to five years.

But today, we cannot discuss digital transformation without also considering the role of digital trust. Digital trust is essential for the secure functioning of our increasingly interconnected world. Digital trust is a key driver of digital transformation as it enables people to have confidence in the safety and security of their online transactions, interactions and business processes.

As the number of connected devices and users grows and environments become more complex, achieving digital trust is becoming increasingly difficult. Applications, users, documents and devices may be distributed across hybrid workloads, cloud services and remote work environments, making it hard to establish traditional enterprise perimeters. The use of CI/CD pipelines and DevOps processes is blurring the lines between IT operations and development. All of these factors make it challenging to maintain digital trust in today's world.

The Essential Elements of Digital Trust

What do we mean precisely when we say, “digital trust?”

There are three core tenants of the concept. They are:

  1. Identity authentication for organizations, individual users, machines, workloads, containers and services.

  2. Integrity to ensure that an object hasn’t been tampered with.

  3. Encryption to protect data in transit.

These essentials combine to make digital interactions safe and secure. For example, they can ensure that sites are safe to use and engage with, that emails are genuine, that software is authentic and digital signatures can be trusted.

Critical to digital trust is public key infrastructure (PKI), a system of processes, technologies, and policies that allows you to encrypt and sign data, deliver the fabric of trust that we all depend on to operate in the digital world. But PKI is only the first step – a foundation – for digital trust. We require additional building blocks to truly enable digital trust.

Digital Trust Requires 4 Building Blocks

To accomplish digital trust, we also need to include these four essential building blocks.

  1. Standards define the trust requirements for specific technologies or industries. For example, the CA/Browser Forum was established in 2005 by a group of certification authorities (CAs), Internet browser vendors, and suppliers of other applications that use X.509 v.3 digital certificates for SSL/TLS, code signing, and S/MIME. This forum sets the standards that CAs must meet to be considered "trusted." Other forums and consortiums, such as the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), Matter standard for smart home devices and IoT platforms, support additional industry and certificate requirements.

  2. The second building block of digital trust is compliance and operations. These activities work to establish trust by ensuring that policies and audits confirm that operations are carried out in accordance with standards set by governing bodies. In a constantly changing regulatory environment, it is essential for companies to maintain compliance with local laws and regulations wherever they do business. A reliable trust partner can help organizations ensure their compliance.

  3. Trust management software is designed to minimize the impact of certificate outages on businesses. As the number of digital certificates increases, unified trust management becomes increasingly important to keep them up to date. It also helps to prevent unauthorized activities by supporting compliance with corporate security policies. Trust lifecycle management software can use business process automation to reduce manual processes and other administrative tasks involved in managing certificate life cycles.

  4. The final essential component of digital trust is connected trust, which allows organizations to establish trust in complex ecosystems. This can help maintain trust throughout a software supply chain or the lifecycle of a device.

Digital Trust Must Be Part of IT Efforts Moving Forward

The Declaration for the Future of the Internet emphasized the vital role of the internet for businesses and societies around the globe. To preserve the integrity of the internet and unleash its full potential, digital trust is essential. Organizations that prioritize digital trust can gain a competitive advantage and show their dedication to building a safer and more connected world.


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