One of the key ingredients missing from Bitcoin right now is a way to store bitcoins that is both secure and convenient. Although there are offline methods of storage that can keep your bitcoins safe from hackers, these sorts of cold storage techniques usually make Bitcoin much harder to use. After all, it’s supposed to be the most frictionless payment system in the world today. Many people view the TREZOR wallet as one way to bridge the gap between safety and ease-of-use, but that still leaves users out in the cold when it comes to their smartphones. PRISMicide is a relatively new project that could be the perfect solution for storing bitcoins securely, while also making them easy to use for both online and brick and mortar payments.
[dropcap size=small]P[/dropcap]RISMicide is similar to the more widely-known TREZOR in that its sole purpose is to sign transactions or messages with a private key. There are actually two separate parts to PRISMicide: a hardware device and a smart card. The private key is stored on the smart card, and the hardware device is mainly used to receive transaction data via Bluetooth from a desktop computer, laptop, or smartphone. When a user first receives their PRISMicide device, they’ll need to generate a public and private key pair with their smart card. Multiple key pairs can also be used with the device if the user has access to more than one smart card. Users will be able to receive bitcoins at their new Bitcoin address without any extra effort, but they’ll need to use the smart card to sign outgoing transactions. For example, if an individual wanted to make a purchase online from their desktop computer, the transaction would be created in the browser and sent to the PRISMIicide hardware device. The details of the transaction would then be displayed on the screen of the device, and the user would simply insert their smart card and type in the pin number to basically sign away the bitcoins associated with that transaction.
In reality, this could be the first Bitcoin wallet that comes rather close to acting like the kind of wallet people are used to holding in their pockets. The device is offline, so there’s no potential of theft from a hacker on the Internet, but it still comes with the same amount of risk associated with misplacing a wallet at some point during the day. On the other hand, the private keys could also be backed up to make sure that the bitcoins are never lost in a situation where the PRISMicide device is misplaced or stolen. The funds would even be safe in the hands of a malicious actor for a certain period of time because the smart card is useless without the correct pin number. Still, it would probably make sense to keep most of your savings at home. It doesn’t make too much sense to walk around with the password to your life savings in your pocket.
It’s also important to point out that this device works for pretty much all of Bitcoin’s use cases. I was able to ask Frédéric Martin, one of the developers behind the project, about how this could work in a normal retail store, and he insisted that this will be an open platform that anyone will be able to fork for use in their own projects. For example, a cashier could be the one who sends a new transaction to a customer’s PRISMicide device, and the customer would be able to check the transaction details before signing it with their smart card. Smart cards could also be used for a large amount of bitcoins in a sort of Bitcoin savings account, but it would still make sense to create multiple backups for that kind of Bitcoin address.
When watching the promotional video for this new project, it’s clear that this device is about more than just Bitcoin. It can also be useful when it comes to bringing end-to-end encryption to the masses in a meaningful way. Whether you’re talking about encrypting messages or storing login credentials, this device has much more utility than your average Bitcoin wallet. The team also plans to integrate with the recently announced bitID protocol, which is an identification system based on the Bitcoin blockchain. In the end, this device could also end up replacing the driver’s licenses and other forms of ID that people generally keep in their normal wallets.
The PRISMicide team is planning to showoff a proof of concept at next week’s Bitcoin 2014 event in Amsterdam, so this is not something that is purely theoretical. The prototype is going to be based on a Raspberry Pi device, and they already have their own operating system for smart cards. Frédéric and the rest of the team are currently thinking about a possible crowdfunding campaign, but they believe they will be able to put together their own hardware by the end of the year in any scenario. Some would say that a portable, secure Bitcoin wallet is part of the required infrastructure that Bitcoin needs if it’s going to eventually become mainstream, and this is one project that could definitely fill that void.