Today a startup called Ledger is launching a super encrypted physical Bitcoin wallet the size of a keychain.
The France-based company is yet another champion of cold storage, marking a growing trend among recently launched Bitcoin companies. Without proper security measures (and sometimes even with solid security) Bitcoin can be plucked from a digital wallet. As breaches at the now defunct Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox and others have shown, losses can be massive. More than $500 million worth of Bitcoin has been stolen since 2010, according to Business Insider earlier this year.
Trezor and Case are among the companies that offer offline Bitcoin storage. Trezor is perhaps the most akin to Ledger, in that it plugs into your computer via USB and requires a PIN code to enter. But Trezor offers a bit of a cumbersome, albeit secure, experience, according to some. It’s device also costs $119, where Ledger costs $36.
To make its wallet secure, Ledger is using an impenetrable chip called the Secure Element, commonly used in mobile phones and banking chip cards. It’s the same technology that mobile payment apps Apple Pay and CurrentC use to secure Near Field Communication payments. In Ledger’s case, the Secure Element ensures that Bitcoin stored there are safe, even if the device is connected to a malware-infected computer. All Bitcoin are secured with private keys, or codes that allow someone to spend their coins. With Ledger, those keys remain on the Secure Element and are never exposed to the network you’re on.
To make purchases with Ledger, users plug the device into their desktop or laptop computer and then enter a PIN code in Ledger’s app for Google Chrome. Three bungled PIN entries locks the wallet, and the user has to answer a security question to gain access.
Ledger was founded by Eric Larchevêque and Thomas France, the same duo that created the Maison du Bitocoin in Paris, an incubator and coworking space for French Bitcoin companies. They say their big plan is to eventually incorporate tap-to-pay with this device, so that users will be able to make in-store as well as online purchases — though there’s no timelines of when that might be. For the curious, below is an early prototype of Ledger’s NFC payment solution.
NFC with included tinfoil hat : when feeling paranoid, just shortcut the antenna pic.twitter.com/zuJjvLXrQQ
— BTChip (@BTChip) October 21, 2014
Ledger’s Chrome app can be downloaded, and the device purchase, on the company’s website.