Fighting fake academic diplomas

Universities all over the world are compelled to use ever more resources in order to assure, that applicants for vacant positions actually have obtained the academic merits which they present. Unfortunately, a few clicks are enough to produce or edit university diplomas. For universities in Switzerland, a new service developed by national research and education network SWITCH has come to the rescue.

“Fake diplomas can seriously damage the credibility of institutions. In addition, potential employers need to check with universities whether the diplomas they receive are genuine. For universities, these enquiries mean a considerable amount of administrative work,” says Robert Ott, head of project at SWITCH.

In response to demands for a joint solution for Swiss universities, SWITCH has developed an up-to-date online solution SWITCHverify.

Based on blockchain technology

The new solution is based on blockchain technology. The main point in blockchain based solutions is that it is not possible to alter information in the digital documents unnoticed. In other words, blockchain does not prevent swindle. It is still possible to manipulate data. But the receiver will see, that something has been changed. This will of course compromise the supplier and affect his credibility. With SWITCHverify, a university issuing a diploma will store a digital fingerprint in a public blockchain. It can be used to check whether a diploma is genuine in a matter of seconds.

“We believe that certifying our diplomas with blockchain is the logical next step in digitalizing the university’s operations. By using SWITCHverify, we’re giving our students the ability to demonstrate their academic achievements and graduation from our institution at any time. Protecting ourselves against diploma forgery means we’re investing in the authenticity of our qualifications in the long term. We’re also sending a strong signal to the outside world that we use intuitive, modern technologies to guarantee greater security,” says Marc Meyer, Dean of Studies & Academic Affairs at the University of St. Gallen, participating in the project.

“A clean and elegant solution”

Universities can have diplomas certified with minimal effort. The organization determines which PDF documents it wishes to certify. The documents can be automatically certified in the university’s existing ERP/LMS system via an API, or manually via a web application. SWITCHverify subsequently adds security features to the diplomas in the form of metadata. In addition, a digital document fingerprint known as a hash is stored in a blockchain.

SWITCHverify complies with Swiss and European data protection requirements. Documents are not uploaded to the cloud for certification or verification. It can be used via API (automatic certification) or web application (manual drag-and-drop certification), keeping technical implementation simple.

The system is currently operating in pilot phase.

The system is already “a clean and elegant solution for securely certifying our diplomas that relieves us of the unnecessary burden of authenticating diplomas,” says Hary Rotter, Head of IT Services at the University of St. Gallen.
After further optimization, SWITCHverify is expected to go into productive operation on 1 January 2022.

Published: 08/2021

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