Rodolfo Novak (also known as NVK) is a bona fide representative of the so-called “toxic Bitcoin maximalist” culture. And as an early BTC adopter, he is very much aware of the various security threats involved in holding desirable and scarce digital assets whose transactions are irreversible. Correspondingly, after becoming disillusioned with hardware wallet manufacturers such as Ledger and Trezor, he decided to follow the cypherpunk DIY ethos and joined the free Bitcoin market with products of his own.
The two cold storage solutions that Novak has introduced, Coldcard Wallet and Opendime, are genuine labors of love. As the Coinkite CEO likes to say, he built the devices to suit his own needs for financial sovereignty and then sought ways to manufacture them at a greater scale.
During the 2019 edition of the Baltic Honeybadger Conference, Novak agreed to sit down and talk about the latest versions of his hardware wallets: Coldcard MK3 and Opendime V4.
Keeping Your Bitcoin Secure
“We all have reasonably similar needs for keeping bitcoins secure,” said Novak, before diving into specific product details. The Opendime was designed to be a “bearer instrument,” a physical means of payment that can be used even by people who don’t understand Bitcoin. At its core, it’s a USB stick which includes cryptographic software to store and secure BTC. Interestingly, the Opendime is the device that powers the reverse-skeuomorphic BitPiggies.
On the other hand, Coldcard Wallets are much more complicated items that can be used to sign transactions while keeping the private keys offline and away from the prying eyes of hackers. Thanks to its use of BIP 174 (which standardizes partially-signed bitcoin transactions), the hardware wallet can operate without ever being connected to the internet. Its latest iteration, the MK3, has received both physical and software improvements, and is becoming the go-to Bitcoin-only device for those who take security very seriously.
“We Want to Serve the Market Without Exposing It to Security Holes”
In Novak’s view, Ledger’s hardware wallets can’t be trusted due to their closed-source approach to software development, while Trezor’s devices have proven themselves to be physically vulnerable to hackers (most notably, during the Wallet.Fail presentations).
On the other hand, Novak is aware that his products only serve a niche of power users who accept no compromises when it comes to the security of their coins. As he explains throughout the interview, the marketing power of his company is limited and the number of people who display interest in a BTC-only device is likewise small. Nonetheless, Novak seems happy about the success of his endeavor and implies that at least the Coldcard Wallet will constantly receive updates to keep up with the needs of bitcoiners (from Schnorr signatures and Taproot smart contracts, to confidential transactions).
As the Bitcoin market matures, it’s going to be interesting to see which hardware wallet manufacturers truly thrive and how security develops in the space. The only certainty is that competition is always useful to develop better products, as the attack surface and vulnerabilities for cold storage devices should constantly get reduced.
For more information about the Coldcard Wallet, listen to the entire interview and check out the technical specifications on its official website.