Ledger Wallet has introduced one of their ongoing projects, LedgerOS TEE for mobile phones, which offers a high level of security comparable to hardware wallets. It uses a phone’s trusted execution environment (TEE), which is a secure operating system (OS) running on an enclave of the application processor, directly inside the smartphone, to store the private keys and generate signatures.
With new discoveries and technologies, Bitcoin is not only becoming more user-friendly, but it is also becoming more secure to use. Mobile apps such as Mycelium and Blockchain strive to change people’s mindset about bitcoin, from a technical and difficult-to-use service, to a more easy-to-use one that requires few clicks to transact. Although usability and simplicity in bitcoin are necessary, concerns over security of hot wallets, such as those kept on mobile phones, still exist.
Since mobile phones are connected to the Internet and are used for different purposes, their operating system is not designed to be super secure. It cannot handle possible attacks on a wallet over the Internet’s network. Hence, due to security risks, generally having a large amount of bitcoin on a mobile phone is not recommended.
TEE is a secure, isolated environment in the main processor of the smartphone that guarantees secure and protected execution of the codes. TEE provides higher security levels than a rich mobile OS, since it creates an isolated environment and is never updated automatically. Additionally, neither Google nor anyone else can snatch the keys using baseband or superuser Play Store permissions.
Ledger has been working on this promising secure wallet on smart phones for a while. The video from Eric Larcheveque, the CEO of ledger, explains how LedgerOS TEE integrates with GreenBits. The user interface is neither neat, nor sleek, but they are working on it.
For now its lack of usability, coupled with a poor design may let its users down. The technology itself, due to its high security nature, might not be so user-friendly. Consequently, it may not be so appealing to users, but we will see how the final released version looks.
According to the ledger team, LedgerOS is the world’s first real-life application running on a trusted execution environment. Most mobile apps run on a phone’s rich OS, which can be found on Android, iOS, Windows Phones, etc.
TEE, however, offers higher protection, with functionalities and features that enable software to run concurrently with the rich OS. Another secure area on the phone is called secure element (SE). It is composed of software and tamper-resistant hardware. It allows high levels of security and can even work in tandem with the TEE. SE offers few features and functionalities for dealing with bitcoins, but it can be considered in future implementations for an even higher security.
TEE in mobile phones offers a quite secure environment that can be used parallel with current bitcoin services to store and sign transactions. With the right implementation, it could assure an equilibrium between security and usability in bitcoin wallet services. Depending on one’s use of bitcoin, even hardware wallets in some cases could be replaced with such technologies in the near future.
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