SolarCoin has a bold plan to foil would-be thieves.
Bitcoin has a hacking problem. Since the digital currency's birth in 2009, determined thieves have found some novel ways to steal massive amounts of coins—at times, hundreds of millions of dollars' worth—from the people who rightfully own them.
It's a problem that's led to inventive solutions, including one called "cold storage," which involves storing funds on a device that never touches the internet, and "deep cold storage," which takes it one step further by implementing some means to make retrieving coins even more difficult than depositing them into cold storage. A simple example would be putting the drive containing the coins into a safe that only you know how to unlock.
Now, a spin-off cryptocurrency called SolarCoin wants to secure its own massive trove of tens of billions of coins (worth around $5 billion USD at half a cent each) with the deepest, coldest storage imaginable: a satellite in orbit around the Earth.
SolarCoin announced a deal on Wednesday with US company Cloud Constellation, which plans to launch a network of data storage satellites in 2019, called SpaceBelt. The plan, SolarCoin founder Nick Gogerty told me in an interview, is to store both the vault and the private key required to access it on a server in space, and when the funds are needed, the satellite will communicate with a base station on Earth, via a secure link.
"To hack this system, you'll need to go to the base station, log in to get access to the network, and then retrieve the files and take them to something connected to the internet," said Gogerty. "It's basically the world's biggest air-gapped computer—the gap is 60 miles up in space."
This space-based system wouldn't stop someone who works at a SolarCoin base station (or someone merely pretending to) from stealing the key, and Gogerty said that social engineering is a concern. Barring theft from someone inside the company, however, it's hard to see how a hacker from the outside could put a wrench in this plan.
"It's basically the world's biggest air-gapped computer—the gap is 60 miles up in space"
"The customer's premises [are] equipped with small antenna—pointing directly to space," Clifford Beek, president of global services for SpaceBelt, wrote me in an email describing the system. "In traditional data centers, customer data is transported over a combination of leased fiber that interconnects at public exchanges and carrier peering points. At those points is where the customer's data can be hijacked and rerouted to unauthorized destinations."
Beyond being a cryptocurrency, SolarCoin also sees itself as a climate initiative and is registered as a public-benefit corporation: it gives people or organizations using solar power a reward in virtual dollars. Billions of digital coins were minted before the coin's launch and put away to be distributed as a reward to solar power users over the next 40 years. SolarCoin hopes to secure that stash for decades with SpaceBelt.
"This will end up being our deepest, coldest storage—the wallet that we'll access every 20 years," Gogen said. "This is the wallet that's secure from any changes in political or policy regimes."
It's worth noting that this plan is all pretty hypothetical. The satellite launch target is still three years off, Cloud Constellations' SpaceBelt tech is apparently "patent pending," and the plan has already been called out as nothing more than a marketing trick. Gogerty seems serious, however, although he admits many of the details are still being worked out.
But in terms of a dream scenario for protecting coins from thieves—well, forcing hackers to go to space is about as theoretically secure as you can get.
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