Getting started with Bitcoin is not the easiest thing to do. One of the things holding Bitcoin back is its highly technical nature. In a very convenient world, Bitcoin is not very convenient to use, yet. Things like Bitcoin storage and security are a major hindrance. There have been plenty of issues with websites that hold Bitcoin wallets being hacked, if that even is the case, costing countless users their bitcoins.
The hardware wallet is thought to be the next generation of Bitcoin security, taking the precious digital coins “off the grid” for superior security from non-secure computer systems. The Trezor is the early market leader in this field, costing US$119, and providing users a way to maximize security with a small module that can be attached to a computer through USB. I was interested in one since it seems very secure if nothing else.
The problem is Trezor is not a wallet. You cannot send bitcoins directly to your Trezor, so you still have to depend on the current crop of insecure web-based usage systems, like your computer, at least to some extent. It also could be much easier to use. So I backed off, thinking there has to be something better and more functional out there, or on the horizon.
This brings me to Melanie Shapiro of Crypto Labs. Born out of her personal loss of bitcoins, she may have taken the next-generation of bitcoin security to Level 2.0. It is called the Case hardware wallet. For US$199 plus shipping, Case is one of the most expensive security solutions available, and considerably more pricey than the Trezor. Do you get what you pay for? Does it do things the Trezor can’t? Let’s find out.
The one thing that bothered me when I head about the Case Wallet was the biometric scanner. Being from modern Western society, I associate biometrics with hi-tech tracking devices that take and store your information in unknown places for unknown people to use for unknown reasons in the future. Not a great selling feature to me; more of a deterrent than anything else. The product will also need to provide superior identity theft protection, if biometrics are required to use it.
Case has come up with a clever way to use biometrics without taking your identity or tracking the user. If you want to send a transaction, you’ll need to swipe your fingerprint, but the fingerprint is not taken and stored by Case. Not exactly. Here is what really happens:
“We do not store direct images of your fingerprints on our servers. We store a geometric template of the relative locations of unique elements of your fingerprint, and this template is used to validate the fingerprint scan. That template, along with all your other sensitive user data are encrypted with what we call the User Data Encryption Key (UDEK).
Each user has a unique UDEK, and that UDEK does not live on our servers, it actually lives on the device. The device grants the server temporary access to your user data for the server to validate the fingerprint scan and sign the transaction with the server key. If the server-side database is ever compromised, an attacker will get encrypted fingerprints that they can’t decrypt since the keys to decrypt them don’t actually live on the server.”
Suffice to say they sweat the details on not just Bitcoin security, but identity protection for the user as well. This is not like any other hardware wallet. Other key features include a GSM chip to access the Internet without a direct connection in over 100 countries worldwide. It is charged with a wireless pad, which is provided, or is compatible with Qi charging pads for 50-100 transactions per charge.
It is designed to be the size and convenience of a credit card, so it fits well in your wallet. It is designed to be a portable Bitcoin wallet that comes with a camera to scan QR codes for transactions on the go. It even offers offline cold storage of a third private key, in case the case is lost or stolen, so your bitcoins can be retrieved.
Who handles the security of the third key? Third Key Solutions, who’s Chief Technology Officer is legendary Bitcoin expert and keynote speaker Andreas Antonopoulos.
Suitably impressed, I had to know more, so I interviewed the founder and CEO of Case, Melanie Shapiro. Within the last nine months, she has gone from a concept to production of the first 1,000 Case Wallet units. Shapiro is joining a growing group female Bitcoin leaders that include Victoria van Eyk, Catheryne Nicholson, Elizabeth Ploshay, Jalak Jobanputra, Connie Gallippi, Pamela Morgan, Meg Nakamura, and Blythe Masters.
Cointelegraph: They say that necessity is the mother of all invention and you had an issue with your own bitcoin storage that caused you to create this new wallet. Can you tell me how you came to need a new way to store bitcoins?
Melanie Shapiro: I just wasn't satisfied with the level of security being used to protect something that was irreversible. We were applying old standards of security to a new technology that required more sensitivity due to its immutable nature. However, I also didn't want to see the utility of bitcoin squashed because it was too difficult to use. We sought out to build something that married ease-of-use and security, and the first incarnation of that idea is our credit card-sized hardware wallet.
CT: You are shipping the first 1,000 units produced this summer. What happens after that for people who want to get one? When will more be produced?
MS: We will be opening up the sale of another batch, but we would first like to get the first 1,000 units out in the wild. We'll spend some time just taking really good care of our first 1,000 supporters.
CT: Your company just had a very successful funding round with the $1.5 million in financing. How does this affect your company this year?
MS: It just gives us more resources for R&D and to meet the demands of the institutions approaching us - the server architecture and key structure is custom for each partner depending on their needs.
CT: How do you feel your product and technology will help the billions of unbanked around the world get involved with Bitcoin in the future?
MS: We believe that as we reach scale, and the price of our device (US$199) comes down significantly, we will be able to reach people in the developing nations where bitcoin can really make a difference. Also, the form factor of the device will change to meet those customer's needs and restrictions.
CT: The year is 2020. What do you feel Bitcoin will mean or become to the world, as a currency and as a technology?
MS: I hope to see the blockchain being used as a global public utility where assets of all kinds, property, contracts, identity, degrees are registered. Where every person on this planet can reference those assets no matter where they are or what the state of their home country is. To me, Bitcoin utopia is all 7 billion people on this planet getting to participate in the global economy in whatever way they so please.
Images provided by Case
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