Who Will Keep You Safe? A Comparison of Bitcoin Wallets That Aren’t Digital

Bitcoin hardware wallets are an area of digital currency security still very much in its experimental phase. Developers are striving to offer the most advanced security features in the most accessible way possible, but the complexity of the undertaking often results in misunderstandings on the part of the consumer.

With this in mind, Cointelegraph sought to provide a summary of the credentials of the main hardware wallet products on the market today. Included are the major offerings which are either already available or in the final stages of development with release imminent.

The products under review are:

  • Bitcoincard (Mycelium)
  • Bitsafe (Butterfly Labs)
  • BitStash
  • BTChip HW-1
  • Pi Wallet
  • Trezor

Of these, Bitsafe and Bitcoincard are currently still in development, with BitStash due for release in May 2015.

Bitcoincard (Mycelium)

How it works

Bitcoincard is unique in using radio signals to request information from the Bitcoin network about transactions. The card works in conjunction with a gateway, which comes in two forms, to communicate transaction information securely.

Bitcoincard

The gateway in turn communicates with a server to complete the connection between the card and the network. The card itself can only communicate with other devices via radio signal.

Gateways are available as a separate device with an Ethernet cable, or as a USB dongle with attached aerial for use with portable devices such as notebooks.

It is also possible to transfer coins from one card to another without the need for a server. Doing so will create unconfirmed transactions which are then verified once server connection is reestablished.

Security features

Information protection: Digital signature keys are created and stored on the card, and are never sent to other components.

Hacker potential: The card does not involve an operating system and cannot download software, resulting in basically nonexistent risk of cyber theft.

Loss/ theft protection: None. If the card is lost, the BTC balance is irrecoverable.

Price and availability

As yet, no official information has been released by Mycelium regarding cost or potential release date for the hardware wallet.

Ease of use and feedback

Owing to no production examples being available or rumored to be available, there has so far been no feedback on using the device.

Bitsafe (Butterfly Labs)

Mining company Butterfly Labs is due to launch its first hardware wallet solution in the near future following a considerable development period.

Bitsafe

How it works

While full specifications have yet to be released pending finalization of the design, the hardware wallet will primarily feature USB and camera as the main points of connectivity.

Digital private keys will be stored on the touchscreen device, which most likely will be of a size similar to a credit card. Bitsafe will also include support for multisignature transactions.

Bitsafe-to-Bitsafe capabilities will be possible using the integrated camera, which will allow scanning of QR codes, including those displayed on another Bitsafe device.

The current plans also include a micro SD card back-up system to guard against loss or theft of the device. This was originally conceived as a physical paper back-up.

Bitsafe will feature solar charging, allowing the battery to be topped up without the need for active USB connection.

Butterfly Labs has noted it is working with wallet providers such as Blockchain and Armory to facilitate the final product’s stability.

Security features

Information protection: Private keys are stored on the device and are never revealed to the host computer or other device to which it is connected.

Hacker potential: Exact security specifications are still forthcoming.

Loss/ theft protection: Bitsafe features a micro SD back-up system, allowing for retrieval of data.

Price and availability

Preorders are not currently available, and it has been suggested that this model will not be used, with direct purchase being favored instead. Price indications are currently around US$150 per unit, but this has yet to be finalized.

Ease of use and feedback

Having only been privately tested, there is no news on how the final product will perform in terms of user interface.

Wallets

BitStash

BitStash’s storage solution is designed with flexibility and mass consumer use primarily in mind. Three components are included, each one with the purpose of working in a different environment; cold storage, a device-based wallet and a mobile wallet for portable use.

BitStash

BitStash consists of a physical device which is plugged into a host in order to sign transactions and perform secure wallet functions. Cold storage, in the form of LUKS doubly-encrypted USB devices, can be plugged into this terminal to fund the wallet.

Separately, the mobile wallet resides specifically on a smartphone, and functions as a subsidiary wallet for small transactions, the balance being backed up on the BitStash device. Private keys are also stored here, with balances able to be moved to both BitStash and cold storage using BIP32-generated addresses.

How it works

When using the main BitStash home wallet, a cylindrical device with a multicolored LED ring around the size of an older Nokia mobile phone, a range of security credentials come into play to safeguard balances and secure transactions.

When completing a transaction, BitStash uses a PIN, a Captcha and a unique Color Captcha mechanism to provide a one-off confirmation. The LED ring on the device is capable of displaying a variety of colors.

BitStash will send details to the host via what it describes as ‘hardened’ Bluetooth. The screen requires uses to select the color closest to that displayed on the LED ring in order to confirm the transaction.

Separately, using a second device such as a smartphone requires 2-factor authentication to be used in addition to BitStash’s other security protocols.

BitStash features a fully-functional user interface allowing payments to be reviewed, sent and received in a specially-designed client.

BitStash

Security features

Information protection: From the security level of each BitStash component to the reinforced hardware used to manufacture it, protection from unauthorized access is a major credential of the BitStash solution. Multisignature transactions are supported. Full details of the extended range of features can be found here.

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