How would you build decentralised business rails for 2.1 billion people?

Georg C. F. Greve
Published in
7 min readSep 15, 2021

According to Glassnode, January 2021 was the All Time High in Bitcoin activity with more than 22.3 million unique addresses. That’s addresses, and less than 1% of 2.1 billion. So how can we build this into business rails — including payment — without requiring physical presence or relying on centralised services? The answer is email.

Email is the world’s largest persistent communication network. At 4 billion users, it dwarves all social networks and messenger platforms. It is also the only choice that is federated, decentralized, peer-to-peer and censorship resistant. Which is why email has become the de-facto standard for our globally unique identifier online. Virtually all platforms, social networks, messengers build on email and rely on it as channel for account recovery.

In addition, it is the most important channel in business communication, enabling commerce at a global scale to negotiate and agree on contracts and coordinate their execution.

For a growing number of companies, email is also the preferred channel for invoicing and coordinating payments. Email is crucial for the majority of today’s cross-border trade, connecting emerging markets with established economies and increasingly also playing a major role in lending, asset management, payroll and treasury.

That is a lot of value for a single communication channel, and the reason email can rightfully be considered the Achilles heel of the internet. 91% of all cyber attacks begin with email. Business Email Compromise (BEC) — also sometimes known as “CEO Fraud” — has emerged as the global crime champion with reported damages of 26 billion USD in 2019. According to the FBI, it’s up 69% in 2020 and the IC3 report shows it causing more damage than ransomware. Cybercrime is putting the earnings of illicit drug traffickers Pablo Escobar or Griselda to shame — and Email is the undisputed champion in this domain, also.

Certificate Authorities (CAs) have tried to address this issue for decades — resulting in today’s situation. Recently a wide range of technologies have been invented to try and address this issue which come with fancy acronyms like DKIM, SPF and DMARC. They offer some relief, but it is already clear they won’t be able to stem the rising tide. All approaches based on origin filtering, statistical models or machine learning and artificial intelligence will always struggle with email because it is highly diverse and there is a business bias that demands to err on the side of delivery, not deletion.

Blockchain to the rescue

Email requires a level of security that works decentralized, peer-to-peer, at the level of each individual email and on top of a trust model that is disintermediated and distributed. Distributed ledgers, especially public blockchains, are perfect for that.

The answer lies in Verifiable Credentials for Email which are put together at the sender’s side during message creation and anchored against the blockchain. Built for privacy by design they allow each intermediary and each recipient to validate the origin, path and content of each email in a decentralized, peer-to-peer fashion.

Such verifiable credentials for email

  • allow the sender to prove what has been sent to whom and when;
  • allow the sender to comply with legal requirements such as revision security;
  • allow the intermediaries to verify each email along the path and filter out problematic mail with zero false positives;
  • allow recipients to verify incoming credentials of email to determine with certainty which email can be trusted;
  • allow all participants in an exchange to verify and proof with legal certainty that this exchange has taken place and what it contained.

Verifiable credentials make email trustworthy for use cases that transport real value, including certified exchange of contracts, order details, invoices and payment details.

They are also the basic requirement allowing to add Self Sovereign Identity (SSI) to email, resulting in a marriage of blockchain and email that allows to transform each email client on any kind of device into a decentralised payment gateway.

As a result, if it can be tokenized it can be transferred by email: Censorship resistant. Decentralized. Peer-to-peer. Anywhere in the world.

But 2.1 billion in 2021?

All of the above is a lot of deep tech work that has been done by Swiss Cryptovalley Startup Vereign since 2017. We started out building a truly Self-Sovereign Identity that focuses beyond the mere exchange of credentials and built prototypes integrating SSI into Gmail and Microsoft 365 as well as use it for document signature in LibreOffice Online.

As a second step we spent much of 2020 developing verifiable credentials for email that are simple to use and made sure they have the capacity to scale to the level of global email traffic, which is at 320 billion daily emails. Because the representation of verifiable credentials in email is much like a digital seal which can be processed by automated components or scanned as QR code, we called the result “Vereign SEAL.”

Vereign SEAL is available for Microsoft 365 and recent versions of Outlook in Microsoft AppSource. It is also available as Gmail extension for Google Chrome and Chromium based browsers, such as Brave or Vivaldi.

Gmail has an approximate 1.8 billion users. Microsoft 365 currently has around over one million companies using it, and is growing fast. But of course there are still a lot of on-premise installations of Outlook that can also install Vereign SEAL right away.

In combination, that makes the 2.1 billion users a conservative estimate.

Our next step will be to combine Vereign SEAL with the Superhero wallet, the basic identity of the tokenized and decentralized social media network by æternity. Which has profound implications, some of which I’ve also covered in my recent series on Bitcoin.

Æternity has been providing very good transaction speeds and finality of transactions at an extremely attractive price point. So much so that even micro-transactions have become feasible. But how to keep such a fast paced chain running with good security? The answer was given in the recent Iris hard fork community vote which introduced Hyperchains.

Hyperchains allow any æternity chain to tag onto Bitcoins Proof of Work for its own security. Once the hard fork for the community chain is complete, æternity will be just as secure as Bitcoin, which is a trillion USD asset. In other words: Bitcoin will provide the security for all the features of æternity, including multi signature wallets, native support of any blockchain wallet format, wrapped assets and much more.

This means nothing less than a chain with the security of Bitcoin, all the capabilities needed for Decentralised Finance (DeFi), Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT), and more — integrated into a social network with tokenization, and with an anonymous, decentralised on-ramp readily integrated for billions of email users.

As for Vereign, we plan to combine this with our work on Self-Sovereign Identity, which will enable value added use cases on top of email. So very soon there might indeed be more than 2.1 billion people with access to frictionless cross border payments and token transfer capability.

We even thought a little about how this would look like for invoicing and payment flows that might involve traditional financial institutions:

An early UX mock-up for invoice & pay by email

Your turn

We are really excited about this possible future. And we hope so are you. Because we would like to enlist your help in making it happen. There are several things you can do to help:

Install the Vereign SEAL Add-In and just leave it on — and encourage others to do the same. More users means more feedback, faster improvement, and more people will automatically gain the token transfer capability in future.

Get in touch at, provide feedback, and help us figure out the details around token transfers. There are also a lot of options around wallet integration where we would like to make the right choices.

Also, we are always on the search for good technical people who share our vision and want to help us make it real. If you want to be part of this, please get in touch and hopefully we can welcome you to the team very soon.

Finally please help us spread the word and this article. 🙏

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Georg C. F. Greve

Chairman and Head of Product @VereignAG. Founding president FSFE. Software developer, physicist, author. Loves self-sovereign, open technologies and ice hockey.