All posts by jcroy

Nitrokey Pro

Nitrokey is an open source usb smart card that has multiple uses including one time passwords, email encryption, file encryption and computer authentication.  The creators decided to create it when they needed a solution to securing their encryption keys on insecure computer systems.  In 2009 they released their first product and now in 2016 they have four different products and are on their way to creating another one.  I found Nitrokey when I was looking to get another Yubikey and found out that Yubikey went closed source.  Since then I have been testing the Nitrokey out, I’ve found that I like it a lot and will  definitely be using the them in the future.  So far it has been a bit of a challenge to configure as the GUI is far from perfect, mainly in the aspect that its hard to figure out if you are a newcomer.  But I haven’t given up and have been able to use the majority of the features that the Nitrokey Pro has (which is a pretty long list).  And eventually I got the hang of it, and realized how very simple issues were proving to be more challenging then they should have been.

GPG

I found GPG to be the easiest to of the Nitrokey abilities.  The simplest way to begin is to use the GPA Assistant.  The GPA Assistant lets you edit the user data on the card and easily/quickly generate encryption keys for the smart card.  The other option is to use the terminal which is not that much harder to learn.  The one problem that really stumped me was getting everything to work on multiple computers, for example if I setup the Nitrokey on one pc GPG would not be able to decrypt/sign anything on another pc.  I am hoping to resolve this issue in the future as it would greatly improve the functionality as it limits me to one computer (When I figure this out I will update the post).  Besides this one little hitch the Nitrokey worked great, the hardest part was getting familiar with using GPG commands as I have always prefered using the GUI.  You can use GPA with it but I found using the command line was preferable when setting up the Nitrokey.

Email Encryption

If you were able to get the Nitrokey working with GPG and all that, then using it for email encryption is only takes a few more steps.  Assuming you are going to use Thunderbird, you just need to install the Enigmamail extension.  Once you install the plugin you can encrypt and decrypt mail in the same way that you would encrypt/decrypt anything with your Nitrokey.  Email encryption with Nitrokey is one of the easier functions of the Nitrokey to set up.

Encryption

This section was a simple challenge for me to set up.  I ended up overlooking the setup process only to realize where I was going wrong.  All you really need to do is download the PKCS#11 library  that lets Veracrypt talk with Nitrokey.  Once you do that you can add the Nitrokey as a keyfile and add an extra layer of security to your encrypted volumes.

Password Manager

This is the one function of the Nitrokey that I struggled to set up.  I’ve setup Keepass with OTP before although I never ended up using it.  If anyone knows how to set up Keepass with Nitrokey please comment or send me a message as I would love to set this up as it is one of the most important features of Nitrokey.

In the end

I definitely am a fan of the Nitrokey Pro, after getting through the challenging learning curve at least.  Nitrokey has a pretty long list of features, there are more than what I mentioned in this post.  The features that I listed in this post are the ones that I have tried and successfully set up.  I’m going to give the other features a go when I get access to my other machine but I wanted to get this post out as I have had the Nitrokey for a while now (stuck on windows ultrabook currently).  If you are not afraid of fairly advanced (but open source) but feature rich usb key then give Nitrokey a go.  And even if you are not the most advanced user with a bit of problem solving its easy to set everything up, its just a bit harder.  Overall I’m a fan of the Nitrokey Pro, its well designed (there are a few things I would like to see though) and has lots of features.  Be sure to check the website in the future as I will be creating tutorials for the Nitrokey Pro (feel free to ask questions if you have any).

I grabbed this image from the Nitrokey website as it was higher quality than anything I can make currently
The Nitrokey Pro

Big Milestone for Cryptosteel

Today is the day that Crytposteel has come out of its beta “phase”.  In celebration they have made a special limited collectors edition Cryptosteel.  The blueprints for Cryptosteel have also been made permanently public on Github.  For the full post/announcement check out Cryptosteel’s blog post here.  And be sure to check in soon as there will be another post about Nitrokey, a secure usb stick that I messed around with.

Cryptosteel

A little while ago I finally got the long-awaited Cryptosteel.  I have waited a very long time, since the start of the crowdfunding project for Cryptosteel’s secure cold storage wallet to be released.  There were a fair amount of roadblocks in the path to getting Cryptosteel to the funders, but these issue are over.  The reason that I am so excited to have a Cryptosteel is because Cryptosteel has made my Bitcoin funds even more secure.  Before Cryptosteel, my seed containing the majority of my funds  was written down on a piece of paper.  Now my seed is a metal plate that is virtually indestructible.  With Cryptosteel, I am safe from outside physical threats, and if you use a hardware wallet you will be secured from physical and software threats.

First Impressions

I was extremely excited to receive the Cryptosteel wallet, so my first impressions were not really diminished by the fact that travel was not kind to the cold wallet.  The wallet of course was intact and there was no physical damage at all.  But the tiny steel letters were all over the place due to the way that they are stored.  With them being loose they became a bit of a hassle to reorganize.  But other than that minor inconvenience I really like it.

Setup

There is not a lot to set up with the Cryptosteel, I found “unlocking” to put the tiles inside to be the hardest part.  It is a little tricky to open the Cryptosteel but once you figure it out the first time the rest is easy.  Now the issue of all the tiles arriving loose are a pretty big issue as they are shipped out organized, and without this organization I have to sort through a large amount of tiny tiles.  Hopefully they change the packaging so that this does not happen, unless it just happened to me.  Once you get the tiles inside and lock the Cryptosteel the “setup” is pretty much finished.

The Verdict

If you are going to be investing a lot of money into Bitcoin or another crypto currency then proper back ups are a must.  There are a few options other than Cryptosteel’s but what I really like about Cryptosteel is that I do not have to send/put my seed anywhere online.  Instead I just have to place tiles into a fireproof, extremely strong cold storage device.  I’m happy that I got myself a Cryptosteel it is definitely an awesome Bitcoin product to have.  If anyone has any questions about it, feel free to ask.

Ledger Unplugged Review

What is it?

Ledger Unplugged is a credit card sized Bitcoin hardware wallet created by Ledger.  It is a Java Card that uses NFC to communicate, with any device that has NFC support.  The Ledger Unplugged costs $32 U.S Dollars, it costs the same as the Ledger Nano.  I prefer using the Ledger Unplugged over the Ledger Nano mainly due to the fact I end up using my phone with Bitcoin as opposed to my computer(s).

First Impressions

Ledger Unplugged is a very interesting hardware wallet.  The firs thing that comes to mind after unboxing it, is that it is some sort of security card or other card commonly found in a wallet.  I really like how inconspicuous  the Ledger Unplugged is, it wont stand out in a users wallet.  The Ledger Unplugged is one of the best devices for every day mobile use, its easy to carry around and does not need any cables.  It’s the perfect wallet for mobile users.

Apps that you can use it with

There are not a lot of wallets that you can use Ledger Unplugged with.  The apps that you can use with Ledger Unplugged are GreenBits, Mycelium and Copay.  Mycelium is my personal preference for a mobile wallet, it supports hardware wallets and has some interesting features.  Although there are not a huge amount of wallets that support the Ledger Unplugged, the ones that do support it are great and make using Ledger Unplugged super fun and easy.

Setting it up

Setting the Ledger Unplugged up is just as easy as any other Bitcoin wallet.  Setup begins with the Ledger mobile app, once the wallet you can open the wallet in the available mobile apps.  I really like the ability to set up the Ledger Nano on an offline secure system, unfortunately you cannot do this with the Ledger Unplugged.  It would be nice to be able to set up the Ledger Unplugged in a secure environment as Android is not always the safest environment.  The video below is another tutorial by Ledger showing how to set the Ledger Unplugged up.

The Verdict

Of the three hardware wallets that Ledger offers, the Ledger Unplugged is my favorite.  It is hard to go wrong with the simple design, and no wires are needed to use it.  The only thing that the Ledger Unplugged needs is a better mobile app, currently you cannot change your pin code easily.  Also I dislike having the security card for the Ledger Unplugged, it is a security feature and makes your wallet more secure.  But I would not mind having a better alternatives as then I have to keep track of two cards.  I currently carry the Ledger Unplugged and the security card in the sleeve that it came with, the end goal for me would to be just have the Ledger Unplugged in my wallet without another card.  That being said, it is still an awesome wallet and it is the wallet that I use it to keep my funds on my mobile devices secure.  If you tend to use your mobile devices with Bitcoin over desktops or laptops, the Ledger Unplugged is the way to go.  Its a tough call, if you compare the Ledger Unplugged with the Ledger Nano as they sell at the same price.  Although if you are buying your first Bitcoin hardware wallet, I would recommend buying the Ledger Nano so that you are not limited to mobile devices.  If you want to see more content related to Ledger products, check the website or subscribe.  More posts and tutorials are on their way.

Ledger Nano Review

My review of the Ledger Nano

What is Ledger Nano

Ledger Nano is a smart card hardware wallet created by Ledger, a French startup (you can read more about them here). The Ledger Nano costs $31, which is a very nice price for a hardware wallet.  The Ledger Nano is on the lower end of the price scale when you look at the competition, great for anyone who wants to secure their funds without breaking the bank.  Nano is very similar in size to a USB drive, you would not notice the difference until you slide the usb part out and notice that it looks a little different.

First impressions

The first thing that I noticed when I opened the box, was how it felt very similar to unboxing a cellphone.  Inside the box you have the Ledger Nano, a security card (for extra security), a lanyard and some small accessories.  When I first saw the Ledger Nano, I thought that I would like how it was built.  The reason for this is part of it is based off of the HW.1 Wallet, which I was always worried about breaking.  The good thing was my initial thoughts were off.  Although they did incorporate part of the HW.1 Wallet, it is a lot better off.  It is quite enjoyable to use, and feels nice in the hands thanks to it being made partly of metal.  Not needing any cable to connect it to a computer is also a great plus, no need to carry a cable in you pocket in addition to your wallet.  It is also quite light weight and small compared to the other Bitcoin hardware wallets that exist.  From my experience, so far it definitely stands out from the competition and gives a few of them a run for the money.

Wallets that you can use it with

You can use your Ledger Nano with the wallet created by Ledger.  The wallet is a chrome app, that runs on Windows (7 and higher), Mac 10.8 (and higher), Chrome OS and Linux.  There are also other wallets that you can use your Ledger Nano with, such as GreenBits, Mycelium, Electrum, Coinkite and Copay.  Although you can use your Ledger Nano with any of these wallets, I recommend setting your Ledger Nano up on a Ledger Starter or a secure computer for added security.  The last thing you want is to think your wallet is secure when in fact it is weak.  A false sense of security is just as bad as no security.  If you are new to Bitcoin, I recommend using the wallet that is created by Ledger, it has a good interface, its easy to use, and if you have questions there is a great time supporting it.

Set up

There are two ways of setting the app up, one is more secure than the other.  The more secure method is to use the Ledger Starter, which I wrote about here.  I highly recommend setting up the wallet with the Ledger Starter or an offline computer.  If you do not have either available, do not worry as you are still able to set up your Ledger Nano.

Select create a new wallet or recover an existing wallet
Select create a new wallet or recover an existing wallet
The instructions are very important, make sure to read them
The instructions are very important, make sure to read them
Select a pin code
Select a pin code
Enter the pin one more time
Enter the pin one more time
Make sure to save this, as the instructions say you will only see it once
Make sure to save this, as the instructions say you will only see it once
Your getting there, enter the seed words that it asks for
Your getting there, enter the seed words that it asks for
Finishing touches
Finishing touches
Almost there
Almost there
Your wallet has been created successfully
Your wallet has been created successfully, it only took  9 steps.  One of the easier setup experiences I’ve gone through

Setup Part 2 (optional)

Your Ledger Nano comes with a security card that adds an extra layer of security to your wallet.  This added level of security is great, but it requires you to keep track of another thing.  I like the security card, the design is nice but I do not like that I have to keep track of the security card if I want to send funds.  Luckily you can pair your smart phone to your Ledger Nano so that you do not need to carry the security card around with you.  I recommend pairing your phone with Ledger Nano as it makes it easier to use your Ledger Nano, after all your phone tends to be around you all the time.   Below is a tutorial by the creators of the Ledger Nano on how to pair your smart phone to your Ledger Nano.

The Verdict

I am a big fan of the Ledger Nano, its low price makes purchasing it a very easy decision.  It is a great device for someone looking to get into Bitcoin and anyone who want to secure their funds without breaking the bank.  The form factor is very small, which is quite nice when it comes to bringing it with you.  The one issue that I have with the small form factor is that I often have trouble connecting it with my computer as it does not always fit properly with the usb port.  This results in the software locking itself as it thinks I removed the Ledger Nano.  The solution to my problem was plugging the Ledger Nano into a usb hub as the Ledger Nano seemed to fit better.  Other that problem with the size and using a similar design, I really enjoy using the Ledger Nano.  It is the perfect hardware wallet for a beginner to Bitcoin who does not want to throw down a fair amount of money for something they have never tried before.  That being said, it is not just for beginners, I will definitely be using it as my go to hardware wallet for my desktop/laptop.  It’s the best wallet for the money that does not cut corners.  I can’t wait to see what other products Ledger creates, they are definitely going to be great.  Be sure to keep checking the site or subscribe! I have more reviews and content on its way.

 

 

Ledger Starter

Security when setting up a Bitcoin wallet is extremely important.  Setting up a Bitcoin wallet on a compromised system can result in the loss of your funds.  To make sure that you are setting up your wallet in a secure environment, you need a clean operating system.  Ledger Starter is small bootable usb drive, used to make sure that you are setting up your Ledger Nano wallet in a completely safe environment.  It is very easy to set up a wallet for you Ledger Nano, with the Starter you can create a new wallet, restore an existing one or wipe your Ledger Nano.  It is worth getting the Ledger Starter for the added security and peace of mind.  One of my first product reviews was of a HW1 wallet, which shares a lot in common with the Ledger Nano.  The issue that I had with the HW1 is that at the time the only way to set up a wallet was on a computer that was possibly insecure.  Since the review, there are many more options to setting up a wallet in a secure environment, but the Ledger Starter is by far the easiest of them all.

The device

The Ledger Starter
The Ledger Starter

Setting up a new wallet

Menu Screen
The main menu
Enter a pin
Enter a pin
The seed
The seed
Plug in your Ledger Nano
Plug in your Ledger Nano
Finishing up
Finishing up

Restore a wallet

Restoring a wallet is almost the same as setting up a new wallet.

Enter a pin
Enter a pin
Entering the seed
Entering the seed
Type yes to confirm
Type yes to confirm
Your wallet has been restored
Your wallet has been restored

The Verdict

Ledger Starter is a very important tool, and is worth spending 6$.  It ensures that your wallet is set up in a clean environment.  It cannot hurt to buy a Ledger Starter, given that if your system is in fact compromised you will lose even more money.  There are very minor issues that I have with the Ledger Starter, such as not being able to edit part of the seed in the restoration part.   My biggest issue with the HW1/Ledger wallets was that the main way to set them up was on a potentially comprised system.  Now with that issue fixed, there is very little to worry about when it comes to security with the Ledger Nano.


The next review is the Ledger Nano, keep checking or subscribe! It wont be long.

There is no funds on the wallet I setup above, so if you do check do not expect anything.  If for some strange reason you use the seed above as your wallet, do not be surprised if you lose the funds you put on it.  After all anyone can get access to it since the seed is right there.