Hands on with Ledger, One of the World’s Most Secure and User-friendly Bitcoin Hardware Wallets

Journalist:
Yannick Losbar @CryptoInvest
December 14, 2014

If there is a specific point which all bitcoiners should take note of, it is the proper storage of their bitcoins. Proper storage of bitcoins is essential to the promise of Bitcoin. Properly securing your bitcoins allows you to have control of your money in ways that were not as accessible before. Two approaches exist so far:

  • Entrust -rightly or wrongly– all the hassle of security to a third party (Coinbase, Blockchain.info)
  • Setup a cold storage by putting your bitcoins on a wallet totally disconnected from the internet, at the obvious cost of less practicality.

Ledger intends to offer the advantages of both these solutions without their drawbacks. The wallet consists of a “smartcard” (a small chip)  that provides a  significant level of safety since this component has been used for years in the credit card industry. The same chip signs all your transactions in a fully encrypted way, hence permitting its use even if the PC on which you would like to perform the transaction is compromised.

From a practical point of view, the wallet is no slouch: the link between this technological gem and you is made through a neat and intuitive interface accessible after installing the dedicated Google Chrome add-on. Launched on December 11 at the price of 29€ (about 36 USD) excluding shipping cost, the wallet is the brainchild of Eric Larchevêque / Thomas France (La Maison Du Bitcoin), Nicolas Bacca (Who built the first smartcard based HW wallet -1) and Joel Pobeda (Chronocoin).

Note: For all above images, just click on them to see a larger version.

Also read: Trezor Wallets to Ship by January

Unboxing

The nice looking package comes with three different items: Your ledger wallet, of course, its instructions, and two essential cards whose uses will be introduced above.

Initialization

The first step after connecting your Ledger wallet to the USB port of your computer is to initialize the Ledger wallet. Nothing very complicated here: you will first need to set a PIN, just like a credit card. Finally, you will need to write down on the provided “recovery sheet” a passphrase of 24 words that has been generated to allow you to reset your wallet in case you lose it.

These 24 words are actually the only way to restore your private key in case anything bad such as a loss or a steal happens. Ledger is a hierarchical deterministic wallet: that means that your passphrase will be used to generate a nearly unlimited amount of private keys and public addresses, thanks to an architecture known as a Merkle tree.

The design of such architecture allows one to rebuild the complete tree of private keys ( and, therefore, public keys, transactions, balances..) using a single passphrase. Consider your passphrase to be like a construction manual: Let’s suppose some nasty friend stole one of your chairs during a BBQ. You’ll be able to re-create the very same chair by following your manual, provided you still have it. In our previous example, replace the chair with your wallet and the construction manual with your passphrase!

Let’s Use It!

The use of your wallet ledger couldn’t be any more simple: you must connect your ledger to your computer, and then enter the PIN code previously defined. The home screen of Ledger, though very neat is unfortunately  limited for now to the “basic” operations: sending and receiving of bitcoin. No bitcoin price here.

When the time comes to make a payment, specify the receiving public address and the amount you would like to send him (or her). One “special” step suddenly comes: You’ll need to grab the security card included in Ledger’s package and type a specific code by matching the letters/numbers displayed on your computer screen with those written on your security card. This double authentication prevents man-in-the-middle attacks that could happen if someone else were in control of your PC.

To Conclude:

-Positive points-

  • Very attractive price compared to its competitors (-50% including shipping cost)
  • Very simple and intuitive interface
  • The smartcard based security whose effectiveness has been proved for years.

-Negative points-

  • The web interface somehow lacks of desirable functionalities (Receivers list, display of the bitcoin price in USD/CNY/EUR…)

Overall opinion: We have here a great and easy to use wallet in a good position to bring bitcoin security to the masses, finally!

You can already buy the wallet here. However, Ledger’s team is already working on an NFC version, wireless technology that would enable you to pay during a real life transaction by making a simple contact between your mean of payment and the merchant’s terminal. The Ledger team can be found on Twitter and at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas between January 6th and 9th.

Featured image from Shutterstock.

Last modified (UTC): December 14, 2014 18:39

Yannick Losbar @CryptoInvest

French Bitcoiner, Journalist at CryptoCoinsNews, CEO at Coinizy. You can follow me on Twitter , and get the finest memes and infographics about Bitcoin , for the lulz !