The Cobo Vault kit includes the device, an actual vault, a removable battery, a charging dock, USB-C cable, mnemonic tablet and booklet for storing secure phrases.
The idea behind cryptocurrency — and related tech like blockchain — is to move towards a decentralized digital online society so our individual privacy can, in theory, be more secure. So what sense does it make that cryptocurrency are generally stored on software wallets on always connected devices that, like most things online, can be hacked? Even if the user is careful and keep their their device offline, chances are that their smartphone or gadget will still have USB ports that can be connected to other hardware, which is the other method through which hackers gain access.
A Chinese startup named Cobo has come up with a device that hopes to solve that issue. Named the Vault, the product essentially takes an old idea and give it a modern spin: it allows people to store crypto in a physical vault. It is able to do so because the Vault is a completely offline digital device with no connectivity ports and no wireless capabilities of any sort. The device is off-the-grid, with the rightful owner needing to through a series of extensive and exhaustive security measures before he or she can access the information inside.
I had the chance to demo the vault on a recent trip to Shenzhen, and setting it up did indeed require security measures on par with gaining access to a small safe.
The entire package consists of a digital device with a 3-inch screen that resembles a 2007-era smartphone (except it is running Android 8.1); a removable 1540 mAh battery (Cobo says a battery stored separately prevents accidental damage from battery corrosion down the line); a mnemonic tablet that can be used to house the series of 24-word mnemonic phrases; and an actual metal box that’s rated IK10 and IP68 for impact and water resistance to store all the other parts.
Setting up the device was a tedious process includes first downloading Cobo’s companion app, then powering on the Cobo Vault, input a randomly generated 24-word sequence in order, set a password that must be at least 10 characters long with special characters, and then scan a dynamic (aka constantly refreshing) QR code on the app with the Vault’s camera. That last bit — QR code — is the only way to connect the information inside the Vault to the app.
This, in theory, means if someone were to steal your smartphone and somehow have your Cobo app password, they still can’t access the crypto inside without physically holding the Cobo Vault. Or conversely, if someone breaks into your home and steals the Cobo Vault, they’d still need to gain access to your smartphone to complete the QR code connection process. The same problem arises for hackers: hacking the Cobo app software remotely wouldn’t be enough.
After setting up my account, I was transferred 0.07 ETH — about 100 yuan worth of crypto — as a test. Cobo says the Vault will also be able to store eight different types of cryptocurrencies including Tron, EOS and BTC. Receiving money doesn’t require me to do much, with the logic being “who wouldn’t want to receive money?” But transferring the money back required me to go through the entire connection process again. This means I can’t move crypto around unless I physically have the Cobo Vault on me and my smartphone app.
This level of security should prevent most hacks already, but Cobo is taking precaution/paranoia to a Tom Cruise spy drama level: let’s say someone has stolen the Vault and is attempting a circuit hack after breaking open the device, according to Cobo’s cofounder and chief technology officer, Jiang Changhao, the Vault will begin a “self-destruct process” (it wipes itself clean) as soon as the device’s outer shell has been pulled open.
It’s really intense stuff, and probably overkill for most average people. But the Cobo Vault isn’t for us. “It’s designed for those of us who can’t afford to take risks with our crypto investments,” says Jiang.
The Cobo Vault is now available for a crowdfunding price of almost $300, but after the campaign Cobo says it will sell for $479.