Review: Digital Bitbox

Review

Hardware wallets combine the security of keeping your private keys offline with the ease of transacting from an online computer, providing a highly secure yet simple solution for storing your bitcoins. A hardware wallet is a separate device that can be connected (via USB) to your computer to make transactions. The private keys are stored on the device, but can never leave the device.

In the series of reviews we look at different hardware wallets and compare the pros and cons of each wallet.

Digital Bit Box

Earlier we wrote a review of the Trezor and the Ledger Nano S. In this hands-on review we take a look at the Digital Bitbox, a hardware wallet with minimalist design by Swiss founders Jonas Schnelli and Douglas Bakkum. In addition to being the founder of Digital Bitbox, Jonas Schnelli is also a Bitcoin Core developer and well-known in the international Bitcoin community.

The Digital Bitbox is a lot simpler in its design than the hardware wallets we reviewed earlier, but that is also reflected in the price. The Digital Bitbox costs around 45, making it the cheapest hardware wallet we’ve looked at so far.

Reception

The Digital Bitbox stands for simplicity and simplicity. This is immediately reflected in the design of the packaging, which is simple: a cardboard box containing the wallet in the form of a USB stick and a separate Micro SD memory card. The simplicity of the design is something that will appeal to some and contributes to the low price.

Although there is a hologram sticker on the opening of the box (removed in the photo), in this case it does not offer much certainty that it has not been tampered with on the way. The box is easy to open from the side without damaging the packaging or the seal. This is not a big deal, because you can load the official firmware yourself to make sure you are running the correct version. However, the need for this is somewhat higher than for example with the Nano S, which uses automatic attestation to verify that the device is running the official firmware.

The source code of the firmware, bootloader, desktop app and mobile app is fully public. This is obviously a plus and in line with Bitcoin’s transparent philosophy. Trust in the hardware manufacturer, as with all hardware wallets, remains a factor.

In practice – installation

To get started it is necessary to install a desktop application, which is available for all operating systems. Then you put the Micro SD card in the Digital Bitbox and it is ready for use. When starting the desktop application, you will be asked to enter a username and password, which will be used to access the wallet.

You simply type the password on the computer, which means that the password can be intercepted by a keylogger. This is a pity, because the hardware wallet is therefore not completely safe against viruses and other viewers. This does not give a malicious person access to your private keys, which would also require physical access to the device, but it is a disadvantage compared to entering the access code via the device itself, as with the Nano S or the Trezor .

After entering a username and password, the wallet is created, based on random data from three different sources:

  • First, the chip inside the Digital Bitbox generates random data.
  • Secondly, to ensure that the security of creating the wallet does not rely entirely on trust in the chip manufacturer, random data is provided during installation by Digital Bitbox.
  • Thirdly, to also ensure that you don’t have to trust the makers of the Digital Bitbox, random data is taken from the user when the password is first entered.

These three sources together provide random data on the basis of which the wallet can be created, without the trust for the creation of that random data resting with a single party.

 

Instead of reading the seed as with other hardware wallets, the backup is stored in the form of a PDF on the removable Micro SD card. This can then be printed out via a trusted printer to make a paper backup. While this approach is perfectly adequate from a security perspective, it does create more hassle when you want to make a paper backup in a safe way compared to reading and writing down the seed directly from a screen on the device itself.

An advantage, on the other hand, of the removable Micro SD card is that it is possible to import other wallets via the SD card. Normally you would import another wallet through a desktop wallet or mobile wallet, which may be insecure. By doing it via the Micro SD you avoid this risk.

Management

After initializing the wallet, you can view your balance, receive bitcoins and send bitcoins from the interface. The interface is simple and uncluttered, as expected from the minimalist approach

Sending bitcoins requires manual confirmation on the Digital Bitbox itself. After you have entered the necessary transaction data in the interface, the transaction data is communicated to the device.

The Digital Bitbox then creates the transaction on the device itself and asks for confirmation. Because there is no small screen on the device itself, it is not possible to verify that the transaction data that the device is going to sign is the same as entered by the user.

Digital Bitbox tries to remedy this disadvantage by making it possible to link your phone to the wallet: the transaction data is then shown on your phone during the confirmation. While this provides greater assurance that the transaction data being signed is correct, it is theoretically possible that both the desktop wallet and the mobile app have been compromised. In addition, the addition of a mobile device complicates the transaction process, which goes against the minimalist and simple approach of the Digital Bitbox. A simple small screen on the device itself would have been more practical.

For the physical confirmation of the transaction, there is a small touch-sensitive surface on the Digital Bitbox, which must be touched continuously for more than 3 seconds to confirm the transaction. After confirmation on the device itself, the transaction is sent from the computer over the Bitcoin network.

Conclusion

The Digital Bitbox is a simple hardware wallet with a solid technical basis. The creators appreciate some paranoia about security, and this is reflected in the way they try to eliminate the need for trust in third parties as much as possible. In combination with the relatively low price, this makes the Digital Bitbox an attractive choice as a hardware wallet.

The minimalistic design of the Digital Bitbox also has some drawbacks. For example, the lack of a screen to show data directly from the device means that it is not possible to verify transaction data directly from the device, or to read a backup seed. This disadvantage is offset by the possibility to link a mobile phone to the wallet. Although this can also serve as two-factor authentication at the same time , it also makes the procedure of doing a transaction a bit more cumbersome.

Advantages

  • All source code is fully publicly available
  • High privacy due to Swiss base of the makers
  • The price: the Digital Bitbox is cheap compared to other hardware wallets

Cons

  • No screen on the device itself to check transactions
  • You can only make a backup via the Micro SD card
  • Not fully protected against viruses and keyloggers

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