Bither: Turning old smartphones into bitcoin cold storage

Friday 13 June 2014

With an abundance of bitcoin wallet apps out there now, BitScan takes a look at one, which offers an alternative use for your old smartphones.  Securing your bitcoins has always been important, especially with wallet-stealing malware and hackers being prominent. It’s always been advised to save your bitcoin savings in a cold wallet; however newcomers are not necessarily aware of how to create one. They’re more likely to gravitate towards quicker, easier solutions for storing bitcoins, secure or not. Fortunately another convenient option has presented itself in the form of a mobile bitcoin wallet named Bither, available for both iOS and Android.

Bither bitcoin wallet

Bither sets itself apart in the sense that it is intended to be used as either a normal wallet on your current smartphone, or a cold wallet on an old device.

Hot vs Cold

As far as the cold wallet goes, it is fairly unique in its approach, as normally people would think to use an old smartphone or tablet as a means of storing money.

Bither now enables people to use their older electronics for something valuable,

regardless of whether it is actively used or not.

It also creates alternatives to dedicated physical cold wallets considering inexpensive, outdated smartphones

and tablets can easily be purchased online.

Couple this with the fact that you would never actively use such an old device (exposing it to damage and wear), your bitcoin funds can be considered very secure.

Upon starting Bither for the first time, you will be asked whether you would like the appto act as a “hot” wallet or a “cold” wallet. Upon selecting one, you will be warned that this selection will be permanent. The only way to change it would be to reinstall the app, but this would also entail losing all of your wallet data, so be wary of that.

 As a hot wallet, it will function as you would expect. It is always connected to the bitcoin network, you can easily send and receive bitcoins, look at exchange rates from various bitcoin exchanges, create new addresses, import private keys, and so on. One minor thing I found nice concerning private keys was that they can be imported via QR code. I haven’t seen other mobile wallets do this; while it may seem like only a minor detail, it would make switching a spending bitcoin address over to Bither very easy. This would assume that your current wallet supports displaying private keys via QR code, which does not appear to be standard yet. You can also monitor your Bither cold wallet with a “watch only” address; you would simply scan the QR code of the bitcoin address. What’s nice about having a watch-only address is that if you need to spend money from your cold wallet, you can do so as long as you provide verification from your device with the cold wallet version of Bither.

Bither bitcoin walletAs a cold wallet it appears secure and easy to use. It is always offline and will warn you if your device isn’t. You can create as many bitcoin addresses you want and create a secure passcode up to 20 digits long. As for creating the “watch only” address on the device with Bither’s hot wallet, you would simply need to reveal a main QR code in the cold wallet’s settings menu. The device with the hot wallet would simply need to scan it, and the cold wallet’s balance will appear. To conduct a transaction using your cold wallet funds, you would need to use your hot wallet to begin an unsigned transaction. In order to sign and verify it, you would need to scan a QR code that is presented by your hot wallet; this QR code of course is scanned with the device containing the cold wallet. The option to do this is again in the cold wallet’s settings menu.

Bither certainly takes a different approach to securing your bitcoin funds. Taking advantage of old and cheap hardware is something that many of us would not have thought about, however it is now a more feasible option with the cold/hot wallets provided by Bither. They are built to complement each other to provide the most convenience and security on a mobile platform. While I don’t personally use this method of securing my bitcoin savings, it is something I would definitely consider if I become more interested in dedicated hardware wallets. After all, it may be more worthwhile to buy an old smartphone, for example, than a presumably more expensive hardware wallet if it becomes necessary. However, that is for each of us to decide, and time will only tell if this kind of solution will catch on.

Daniel Mestre

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