Since the introduction of bitcoin in 2009, the digital currency has received a lot of attention: some good, some bad. From both technical and social perspectives, it has become an often-complicated phenomenon.
Bitcoin has begun gaining traction recently, and in the future, it could play a major role in how consumers and businesses pay for goods and services. But first, it has to solve its security issues. It has been associated with numerous scams, thefts and reported loss of bitcoin wallets, which store the private keys that you need to access a bitcoin address and spend your funds.
One proposed solution is Case, a bitcoin wallet that emphasizes security and ease of use, according to the company’s CEO, Melanie Shapiro.
What is bitcoin?
Bitcoin is an online financial network that people use to send payments from one person to another. You can get bitcoin by accepting them as payment for goods and services or by buying them from a friend or someone near you. You can also buy them directly from an exchange with your bank account.
In a lot of ways, it’s similar to conventional payment methods like credit cards or PayPal, but there are two main differences.
For starters, no one person or company owns and controls the bitcoin network. It is a fully decentralized, peer-to-peer cash transfer system that is openly accessible, similar to how the Internet is distributed.
“I like to compare it to a ledger. A ledger is a database that houses things or data, and bitcoin is simply that,” says Shapiro.
The second thing that makes bitcoin unique is that it has its own currency. PayPal and credit cards use conventional currencies like the U.S. dollar. However, the bitcoin network uses a monetary unit, also called bitcoin.
Stepping up security
Doing business with bitcoin can be risky.
“The transactions are irreversible. If you’ve mistakenly sent money to the wrong person or sent them too much, you have no control over that transaction and you just hope that the person on the other end is a good person and will send that money back to you,” says Shapiro.
In 2014, Shapiro founded the Rochester-based company behind Case and soon after created her team of 15, consisting of a head of technology and a number of engineers. She had a clear vision of the type of security other bitcoin wallets were missing, having been a victim of bitcoin theft herself. And she wanted the person with only a slight grasp of technology to be able to operate it.
Using Case to send bitcoin involves only three steps.
“Push a button, scan a QR code and swipe your finger – that’s it,” says Shapiro.
The company claims receiving, buying and selling bitcoin is just as easy. And in addition to fingerprint recognition, here’s how the wallet brings security to another level:
Case is a multi-signature wallet that requires two of three security keys for a transaction to take place. One key is embedded on the device. When a user initiates a transaction, the device signs it with its key, and broadcasts that with the impression left by the fingerprint to the Case server. Only when the server verifies the fingerprint, will it sign and complete the transaction.
“So if someone gets hold of one of your keys, it’s as good as having zero,” says Shapiro.
Should Case be lost, a third key sits in an offline vault, which is used to recover the bitcoin.
Other users of the bitcoin network have welcomed the relatively new technology with open arms.
“Multisig is vastly important. Just look at how many corporations' data are breached every month! That does not bode well for bitcoin,” says Mike Komaransky, vice president of Cumberland Mining and Materials LLC in Chicago. Cumberland is a liquidity provider in bitcoin.
Shapiro says her team is constantly working on ways to push the technology forward. Though Case has seen most of its success in the institutional space, it was a passion for helping consumers across the globe to use bitcoin as an alternative to their unstable local economy that led to the wallet’s creation.
“I really wanted people in emerging markets in developing countries to have technology that gave them the freedom to save money and have a way to spend currency,” says Shapiro.
The CEO is optimistic that Case will eventually serve that purpose. Meanwhile, the team is focused on the fourth quarter of 2016, when it will launch its second product. Shapiro is keeping the details under wraps, but says the device will debut a different look and target a new market. She says she isn’t concerned about the competition.
“To us, it’s just survival of the technology. That’s what we want to see happen.”