Interview with the man behind bitcoin paperwallet
Monday 31 March 2014
Canton Becker is the brains behind bitcoinpaperwallet.com, a cold storage solution for bitcoin. BitScan's Jeran Campanella tested out how easy it was to create paper wallets for cold storage with the Ubuntu Live CD, seals, and plastic bags.
After finding it easy and feeling more confident than ever about the safety of his bitcoins, he spoke to Canton to find out more...
BitScan: Can you tell us a little about your internet background?
Canton Becker: I was attending university from 1991-1995, and I more or less stumbled into a campus job doing network administration work. I already loved computers (and had been programming them since I was 10 years old in 1984) but participating in the evolution of email and FTP into the World Wide Web was thrilling. I remember making some of the very first websites, and using the <blink> tag liberally. I remember the content battles as “gopherspace” gave way to Mosaic and the worldwide web.
As I was finishing up school, I combined my interests in Internet technology and music by co-founding a company called Rocket Network with a schoolmate and two pop stars from the UK. We developed software in 1995 that allowed real-time music collaborations over the Internet. Eventually our company grew from four guys in a garage to a 50 person team in San Francisco funded by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures, Cisco, etc.
In 2000, I set out on my own, and have been working on various community-centric projects such as http://sampleswap.org, https://myfutureself.com, and now https://bitcoinpaperwallet.com.
B: Alright, well it sounds like you have quite the technical background. So, in regards to bitcoin… Please tell us when and how did you get involved?
CB: I think I first learned about bitcoin from a radio program in 2011. I immediately seized on the idea as it reignited my interest in crypto-anarchy. (I was an avid follower of the cypherpunks mailing list in the early 90’s, and enjoyed Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon immensely.)
B: So, tell me about your website and what is this product you sell?
CB: From early on it became clear to me that for the foreseeable future, the safest place to keep Bitcoins would be offline in “cold storage”. Keeping bitcoins on offline digital media (e.g. encrypted thumb drives or CD-ROMs) seemed like a bad idea because digital media is fragile. I have a box full of CDR’s and antiquated media (like DAT-cassettes) whose data is either unrecoverable or enormously difficult to recover because of "bit rot" and ever-changing data interfaces. But paper, now that’s something I know how to keep safe and legible for the long-term.
But when I explored the paper wallet options online, they uniformly had flaws:
1) insecure, because the private keys were all-too-easily exposed, and
2) just plain ugly.
"I made bitcoinpaperwallet.com because I wanted to make Bitcoin more tangible, safe, and beautiful. “
- Canton Becker
The service (which is free) allows you to print out your own bitcoin paper wallets that when folded up and secured give you the strongest possible protection against theft. What I sell is tamper-evident serialized stickers, which provide even more protection against “candling” (using bright lights to make paper transparent) and tampering.
I also sell a customized Ubuntu Live CD, which makes it possible to boot a Mac or PC to a totally secure offline wallet printing environment, without needing to know anything about virus detection, PGP signatures, etc. All you do is turn off your Internet, boot using the CD, and start printing wallets.
B: So was the design your idea?
CB: My innovation is the tri-fold paper wallet with the “butterfly” shape. It’s a meticulous design, in which every angle and cutout reflects an improvement in either tamper-protection (preventing someone from sneaking a peek at your private key) or durability (making sure your paper wallet can survive being crumpled up or partially damaged.) The design went through a number of iterations in response to tests with lasers, flatbed scanners, camera flashes, solvents, and sticky tape.
B: Why do you think paper wallet security is important?
CB: For bitcoin to succeed, it needs to be adopted by a much wider audience. For more people to adopt bitcoin, it needs to be understood, and understanding a currency that you can’t hold in your hand is tricky. Understanding the value of an attractive paper wallet with instructions printed right there on the back is much easier. Moreover, until we have some sort of bulletproof cheap hardware wallet, paper wallets will continue to be the fastest, cheapest, and most secure way to store bitcoin.
B: So, in your opinion, is this the safest way to keep bitcoin?
CB: The safest way to store bitcoin is to store it on BIP-38 encrypted paper wallets, making sure to have at least 2 copies stored in separate locations so that they can’t be destroyed by the same fire, flood, or small-town zombie apocalypse.
B: The Zombie Apocalypse, and they are coming straight out of the crypto. Okay, bad joke. So tell us now… Where can we go to order? What are the options?
CB: The bitcoinpaperwallet software can be tested out and downloaded from bitcoinpaperwallet.com. Your free wallets can be additionally secured (and you can support the project) by purchasing any or all of the following:
The Ubuntu Live CD
All of the orders ship for free (to anywhere in the world) and include a free gift (currently a vinyl weather-proof “bitcoin” sticker for your car/bike/laptop.).
B: So, in your mind, what is the biggest challenge standing in the way of bitcoin becoming mainstream and if you could say one thing to the early adopters or change one thing about bitcoin, what would it be?
CB: I think I’d try to convince the bitcoin community to be a little less concerned and invested in anonymity. By this, I don’t mean that we should make the bitcoin protocol itself any less anonymous. I just mean that people who are using bitcoin or selling products and services for bitcoin should consider whether or not it might be a good thing to reveal their identities, (like I do). As has been said elsewhere: while the bitcoin protocol itself is “trustless”, actually using bitcoin still requires some degree of trust, and this is a hard thing to do when you have no idea who you’re talking to.
Bitcoin can’t take on PayPal and Western Union
until a more significant portion of its users voluntarily emerge from the shadows.
We’re doing something great, and (for the most part) perfectly legal.
Let’s be free to show our humanity.
B: I agree and thank you for the work you’ve done in helping bring bitcoin to the masses and making it easier to store and keep safe.
Currently the Ubuntu Live CD, the holographic stickers or the baggies, can be purchased with 10% off with free shipping to anywhere in the world, and if you pay with bitcoin instead of PayPal, there’s an extra 3% discount for that.
If you have questions or comments for Canton, you can email him at [email protected]
He is also easily reached for questions and invites you to visit his BitcoinTalk.org trust page
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