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Identity management with on-chain access control

shortname:      IDM
name: Identity management with on-chain access control
type: Draft
status: Valid
version: 0.1
editor: Aitor Argomaniz <>

This SPEC introduces a pattern for integrating independent Domain Controller system to manage the identity authorization with the Nevermined Service Execution Agreements (SEAs) (also called "Service Agreements" or "Agreements") as contracts between parties interacting in a transaction.


Corporate environments utilize complex identity management and access control via Domain Controllers (i.e Active Directory). These solutions allow to authenticate and authorize corporate users of a specific domain or network. Implementations like Active Directory enable the management of individual or group permissions within the organization assigning security policies. At the same time, decentralized ecosystems allow the interaction and collaboration between different users part of the network using Decentralized Ledger Technologies (DLT) as source of truth of the shared network. In the data ecosystems where different organizations are members of the same network or consortia, it’s a challenge to handle how the identity is managed within the organization (centralized) and how these different organizations can interact with each other re-using their existing Domain Controllers without moving all the existing identity management rules to a new silo or environment (centralized or decentralized).

The intention of this document is to detail how independent organizations can integrate their existing corporate Domain Controllers in a Decentralized data ecosystem allowing the decentralized access control without replicating the existing organization permissions to the decentralized network.


The main motivations of the solution described are:

  • Understand how in a decentralized environment, different organizations with totally independent (and probably incompatible) Domain controllers can manage the permissions of the their decentralized assets (subjects) without replicating the permission policies in a new solution
  • Understand what are the different actors involved and how these actors interact
  • Identify the main interfaces required for the interactions
  • Identify the credentials generation and management
  • Understand how the credentials issued can map to a DLT user identity via keys
  • Facilitate the interoperability between actors in the system



Nevermined Identity Management solution is designed based on the Verifiable Credentials & Decentralized Identifiers specifications as building block in the design of the solution. So some of the terms and concepts used are based on these specifications.


The actors identified in the solution described are:

  • Holder - An actor possessing one or more credentials. This user presents these credentials for identification purposes
  • Issuer - The actors asserting the claims about different organization subjects and creating the credentials for that claims and transmitting to the Holder
  • Verifier - The actors receiving credential presentations from Holders for further verification
  • Verifiable data registry - The actors associated with the organizations managing the internal user and groups permissions

W3C Actors in Verifiable Credentials

Use Case


The specification and architecture designed is based in some environment preconditions. These preconditions need to be taken into account in order to adapt the solution designed to the environment where this solution is going to be used. The main environment characteristics are:

  • Multiple and independent organizations participate in a decentralized data ecosystem
  • Each organization have independent Identity Services (like Active Directory) to manage the internal authentication and authorization of their users and groups
  • Users belonging to the organizations need to make use of the decentralized ecosystem authenticating via their Identity Services
  • Different organizations could use totally independent and different infrastructure and technical solutions
  • The rules governing the authorization of users within the organization are kept in the Domain Controllers. It’s not recommended to replicate that information in a different centralized or decentralized repository
  • Users belonging to an organization don’t want to add a new mechanism to authenticate. They are already using their single sign-on (SSO) solution within the organization
  • DLT networks use credentials for identifying, authenticate and authorize users in a decentralized environment
  • Users need to make a friction-less interaction with the decentralized applications connected to the ecosystem without knowing the underlying credentials management (DLT wallets)


The main requirements used to designed the solution are:

  • Multiple and independent organizations need to manage the access control to the assets registered in a decentralized ecosystem
  • A Subject manager or Admin wants to manage the access control to the subjects he/she controls using the Domain Controller solution used in the organization
  • The Admin needs to manage the subjects access control via users and groups
  • The users of a organization need to operate in the DLT network to interact with the subjects registered in that network
  • The users of the decentralized ecosystem are identified in that network via credentials based in the Wallet technologies used in the DLT network
  • The users need have a mapping between their organization identity and their decentralized ecosystem identity
  • The Users or Holders keep their identity that only belongs to them. They need to present the credentials issued by the organizations they belong to verify their identity.
  • The users can belong to one or many groups in one or many different organizations
  • A user of the organization A wants to give permissions of a user or group of the organization B for making use of a subject or asset registered in a decentralized environment
  • Users managing permissions on these decentralized assets should be able to add and revoke permissions
  • The schemas and data existing in the individual deployments of the Identity Services shouldn't be replicated in the decentralized ecosystem. The source of truth are the Identity Services instances
  • Information kept about the users and groups in the DLT network must be minimal and never store PI. Ideally only ids and hashes
  • The decentralized ecosystem register assets and the conditions for who can interact and what is possible to do with these assets is kept on-chain
  • Public information about users like users public keys should be available. User information should be resolvable via decentralized identifiers


Identity Management

The proposed solution involves the deployment of a component called Identity NODE. Each Domain Controller in the Ecosystem needs to provide one Identity NODE in charge of bridge the internals domain authorization policies with the rest of the world. So it’s assumed for each independent Domain Controller available in the network, there should be at least one Identity NODE resolving for the Domain Controller policies.

W3C Actors in Verifiable Credentials

In this scenario each Domain Controller keeps control of the identities of his domain. The only actions that are done by the Domain Controllers are:

  • They identify users as in part of the domain
  • They identify users as part of a group within the domain
  • They are network isolated and respond to authorization queries to the associated Identity NODE

Verifiable Credentials associated with Nevermined assets

In Nevermined an Asset can represent any kind of subject registered in the network. Typically assets represent datasets, algorithms, services, etc. Any registered asset within Nevermined always has associated a Decentralized Identifier (DID) that can be resolved into a DID Object (DDO).

Typically a DDO includes metadata information describing the asset and the services that are offered by that asset to the rest of the network (access, computation, etc.). In addition to this, a DDO can include a portion describing the users and/or groups that can interact with the asset. This is modeled in the DDO in the shape of W3C Verifiable Credentials.

Here you can see an example of a fragment of a DDO including the credentials of an asset for different subjects:

"@context": "",
"type": ["access"],
"issuer": "0x610D9314EDF2ced7681BA1633C33fdb8cF365a12",
"issuanceDate": "2019-01-01T19:73:24Z",
"credentialSubject": [{
"id": "0x1234",
"type": "User"
}, {
"id": "0x5678",
"type": "User"
}, {
"id": "Group XXX",
"type": "Group"

In the above verifiable credential fragment we are associating access permissions to any holder of the credentials able to authorize the users “0x1234” or “0x5678” or as part of the group “Group XXX” of the domain.

Json Web Tokens (JWT)

JSON Web Tokens (JWT) is a compact URL-safe means of representing claims to be transferred between two parties. The claims in a JSON Web Tokens are encoded as a JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) object that is used as the payload of a JSON Web Signature (JWS) structure or as the plaintext of a JSON Web Encryption (JWE) structure, enabling the claims to be digitally signed or MACed and/or encrypted.

JSON Web Token (JWT) is an open standard RFC 7519 that defines a compact and self-contained way for securely transmitting information between parties as a JSON Object. This information can be verified and trusted because it is digitally signed. JSON Web Tokens can be signed using a secret (with HMAC algorithm) or a public/private key pair using RSA.

In the architecture design we use JWT for encapsulating the messages between the different parties. JSON Web Tokens consist of three parts separated by dots (.), which are:

  • Header
  • Payload
  • Signature

Therefore, a JWT typically looks like the following:


In this architecture document, all the JWT messages sent from a client to a server are using the HTTP Authorization header with the Bearer scheme. Example:

HTTP GET /api/v1/node/resource

Authorization: Bearer eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIXVCJ9TJV...r7E20RMHrHDcEfxjoYZgeFONFh7HgQ

JWT Structure

The header contains the metadata for the token and at a minimal contains the type of the signature and/or encryption algorithm:

  • "typ" - the type of the token, which is JWT
  • "alg" - the hashing algorithm such as ES256. We are using ECDSA with SHA256.
  • "cty" - Header Parameter defined by JSON Web Signature and JSON Web Encryption is used by this specification to convey structural information about the JWT.

In our case the header is gonna look like this:

"typ": "JWT",
"alg": "ES256",
"cty": "arbitrary"

JWT Payload

The payload contains the claims. Claims are statements about an entity (typically, the user) and additional metadata. There are three types of claims:

  • Reserved claims: These are a set of predefined claims, which are not mandatory but recommended, thought to provide a set of useful, interoperable claims.
  • Public claims: These can be defined at will by those using JWTs. But to avoid collisions they should be defined in the IANA JSON Web Token Registry or be defined as a URI that contains a collision resistant namespace.
  • Private claims: These are the custom claims created to share information between parties that agree on using them.

In our case the payload will have the following attributes:

  • iss - Issuer. address of the holder
  • sub - Subject, id of the service agreement
  • aud - Audience, address of the node

Here an example of the payload:

"iss": "0x123456",
"sub": "did:nv:abcde",
"aud": "0xffffff"

Identity Nodes

In this architecture the Identity Node is in charge of:

  • Expose to the network the interface allowing to ask for the details of a Domain Controller.
  • Resolve a Domain Controller DID into a DDO describing it. Each Domain Controller should have associated a unique Decentralized Identifier (DID) that resolves into URL where is kept the Decentralized Document (DDO) describing the Domain Controller.
  • Verify the identity of a Holder. When a Holder presents a digital identity it authenticates the Holder. Typically this is happening verifying the signature given by the Holder for a specific Subject
  • Check the authorization of a Holder over a Subject. When a Holder claims authorization for a Subject it integrates with the Domain Controller for verifying the authorization of that Holder.
  • Generates, Signs and Issues credentials
  • Can present some emitted credentials on-chain

Interactions between the actors

The following flow describes the interaction between actors allowing a Holder to present credentials related to a subject authorized by a Domain Controller.

Identity Management Flow

The different steps are:

  1. The Holder presents a credentials request related to a subject

     HTTP GET /api/v1/node/services/oauth2/token

    Authorization: Bearer eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIXVCJ9TJV...r7E20RMHrHDcEfxjoYZgeFONFh7HgQ

    Where the JWT payload is:

    "iss": "0x123456", // address of the holder
    "sub": "0xabcde", // id of the service agreement
    "aud": "0xffffff" // address of the Nevermined Node
  2. The Node decodes the JWT message, and validates the identity of the Holder checking the signature and the issuer address provided

  3. The Node queries the domain controller checking the access permissions of the Holder for a specific Subject. The identity Node could integrate different kinds of backends like Active Directory, LDAP, databases, etc. The verifiable credentials can include user or group types of credentials subjects. The identity Node must validate if the user just authenticated fulfill any of the following:

    • If is a user part of the Domain Controller
    • If the user is part of any of the credential groups within the Domain
  4. If the Domain Controller validates the Holder has access permissions, the Identity Node will generate and sign a credential

  5. The credential is issued to the Holder in the JWT format included in the access_token response parameter:

    "access_token": "eyJhbGciOiJFUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpc3MiOiIweDEyMzQ1NiIsInN1YiI6ImRpZDpudjphYmNkZSIsImF1ZCI6IjB4ZmZmZmZmIiwiaWF0IjoxNTE2MjM5MDIyLCJleHAiOjE1MTYyNTAwMjJ9.fiOSfeQwSiDi0ECFuDrHmhx8BHTHMl6MiyiJgJ6BIntjHvcFDFjPwtSYJrhYpeTcBPQ1FO5-fT-n4fQXBF92Vw"

    Which decoded has the following payload:

    "iss": "0x123456",
    "sub": "0xabcde",
    "aud": "0xffffff",
    "iat": 1516239022,
    "exp": 1516250022

    In this case it includes the “iat” (when the token was emitted) and “exp” (when the token is expiring).

  6. The Holder can present the credentials to a Smart Contract or Optionally the Identity Node could present the credentials to a Smart Contract on behalf of the Holder.

Node JWT implementation

The Node implements the RFC6749: The OAuth 2.0 Authorization Framework framework using JWTs as Authorization Grants and JWTs as Access Tokens

JWT Authorization Grants

The claims that should be contained in a JWT Authorization Grant depend on the action that we want to perform on the Node. The claims validation follow RFC7523. Overall the claim options look like this:

Registered name claims

"iss": {"essential": true},
"sub": {"essential": false},
"aud": {
"essential": true,
"values": [
"exp": {"essential": true},
  • iss: Is the ethereum address of the consumer
  • sub: (optional): Is the Service Agreement Id if applicable
  • aud: Is the path of the endpoint being called
  • exp: Is the expiration time

Private name claims

These claims are specific to Nevermined

"did": {"essential": false},
"execution_id": {"essential": false}
  • did (optional): Is the DID of the related asset
  • execution_id (optional): Is the execution id of the related compute job

To request a JWT access token a client needs to make a request to the token endpoint (/api/v1/services/oauth2/token) by sendinf the following parameters using application/x-www-form-urlencoded format as per RFC6749 with:

  • grant_type=urn:ietf:params:oauth:grant-type:jwt-bearer: The grant type as per RFC7523
  • assertion=<jwt grant token>: The assertion with a single JWT grant token as per RFC7523

For examples JWT Grant tokens check Examples of JWT Grant Tokens in the Annex.

Adding and Revoking Permissions

The administrator of the Domain typically uses the Domain Controller as a unique source of truth for the access control of users and groups. Because the identity Node asks the Domain Controller for the belonging of users and groups as part of the domain, any modification of the permissions in the Domain Controller policies will be extended automatically to the new authorization queries responded by the Identity Node.

For the cases where an access token was already given to a user, this will be valid during the lifetime of the credentials assigned to the user. During that period of time, the credentials will be valid for access to the resources granted. Because of that it is recommended to configure the identity Node to not emit credentials with very long expiration time.

To complement this, the Identity Node could integrate a cache system to keep track of the credentials granted during their life-cycle, and expose a method for revoking credentials immediately. In that scenario if a Domain Account needs to revoke some credentials related to a Holder and a Subject, it should send a request to the Identity Node using the following format:

 HTTP DELETE /api/v1/node/services/domain/credentials

Authorization: Bearer eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIXVCJ9TJV...r7E20RMHrHDcEfxjoYZgeFONFh7HgQ

Where the JWT payload is:

"iss": "0x123456", // address of the domain controller
"sub": "0xabcd", // id of the service agreement
"aud": "0xffffff" // address of the Node

For this request the Identity Node needs to authenticate the Domain Account via the signature. If all the validations are correct the Identity Node needs to send a revoke request to the Smart Contract keeping the authorization permissions on-chain.

This scenario is valid when the Identity Node integrates a DLT network to backup the authorization permissions. If the Identity Node performs the validation for each request, this revocation won’t be necessary because the next authorization request via the Node will query the Domain Controller that should have already revoked the authorization permissions.


Serializing DID Documents

Having a standard JSON document or subtract, the common operations used to serialize fragments of DID Documents is as follows:

  • The object is sorted alphabetically by key, of the existing nested levels
  • In the JSON generated, all the characters between entries are removed (\n, \t, \r, whitespaces, etc.)
  • As a result must be generated a string of only one line
  • After serializing a DID Document or a fragment into a string line, typically it’s necessary to hash that line to include as part of a different document or adding it on-chain. The common method used to do that is using the SHA3-256 (Keccak-256) algorithm (you might have to convert the string to bytes first.) , making sure that final hash generated is prefixed by 0x.

Examples of JWT Grant Tokens


// header
"alg": "ES256K",
"typ": "JWT"

// assertion
"iss": "0x068Ed00cF0441e4829D9784fCBe7b9e26D4BD8d0",
"aud": "/api/v1/node/services/access",
"sub": "0xf527a6bbc35547f782dda34d64bb9070e743531107994899b1f97d4451aacbe1",
"iat": 1607967375,
"exp": 1607970975,
"did": "did:nv:5c19aaf5f7c12ef0a9d898d5a89ca5428f3d0315b0f0a36f5b5d097166e53788"


// header
"alg": "ES256K",
"typ": "JWT"

// assertion
"iss": "0x068Ed00cF0441e4829D9784fCBe7b9e26D4BD8d0",
"aud": "/api/v1/node/services/compute",
"sub": "0x3228c55d6e444cdc87bd5425896d5cdfa1e42e0734d04866a6c4386ef4f20144",
"iat": 1607968935,
"exp": 1607972535,
"execution_id": "nevermined-compute-82v5j"


// header
"alg": "ES256K",
"typ": "JWT"

// assertion
"iss": "0x00Bd138aBD70e2F00903268F3Db08f2D25677C9e",
"aud": "/api/v1/node/services/download",
"iat": 1607969122,
"exp": 1607972722,
"did": "did:nv:2379d3e2d03f25b8e5fb2fae6e6adeb45cd7674d20905fc172d84915ff68cc73"


// header
"alg": "ES256K",
"typ": "JWT"

// assertion
"iss": "0x068Ed00cF0441e4829D9784fCBe7b9e26D4BD8d0",
"aud": "/api/v1/node/services/execute",
"sub": "0x715954fd8a9b48968983ae9b9813e169b4be0d861ccb4bbd8489298cda59c6a9",
"iat": 1607969247,
"exp": 1607972847,
"did": "did:nv:e689ed382b15e190a5937f5c070843cce249a692ff09931d570e288bd91e5b81"