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Crypto and Blockchain Smartphones: A Rundown

Crypto and Blockchain Smartphones: A Rundown

Crypto and blockchain wallets for smartphones have been in development since at least 2019. From mobile applications to hardware-level support for blockchain applications, the state of security across these devices has had varying levels. Here’s a quick summary of what else is available for crypto enthusiasts right now.

Samsung Electronics, makers of some of the smartphone industry’s premium flagship devices, recently announced support for blockchain applications from third-party wallets on its Samsung Galaxy series smartphones.

Samsung’s Blockchain Wallet can now import digital assets from third-party hardware wallets such as Ledger’s Nano S and Nano X. Samsung has also extended support for the following cryptocurrencies on its native wallet for smartphones: Tron, Ethereum, Bitcoin, Klaytn, and Stellar. The Samsung Blockchain Wallet also supports purchases and selling of supported cryptocurrencies through the Gemini crypto exchange.

There are concerns, however, that the security level of Samsung’s blockchain offering is not at par with the crypto industry’s latest measures. Samsung’s blockchain platform was opened for development with the release of its SDK (software development kit) in October 2019.

Security Concerns

Samsung’s Blockchain Keystore forms the critical cornerstone of this blockchain initiative from the tech manufacturer. It addresses the key security concerns of blockchain users by porting secure access to the device itself, thus making any compatible Galaxy smartphone work in similar fashion to that of a cold storage wallet. As a secure enclave within the device, this can be accessed through using a PIN or biometric authentication.


The concern here, however, is that Samsung’s Knox security platform makes uses of a TEE, or a Trusted Execution Environment. A TEE works by directly embedding into a device’s processor, thus executing its operation on the same chip on which a device runs. This means that the TEE isolates the management and storage of secure data, such as encryption keys or seed phrases for a blockchain app.

A TEE’s software and memory load is separate from the main processor, but runs in congruence with the device’s operating system. Because it is not separate from the device’s core security (unlike the way a TPM, or Trusted Platform Module, is built separately from a device such as a laptop), it is vulnerable to an attack vector that can be used to exploit code running within its environment. This exploit, and its variants, is called Post-Adversary Device Access (PADA).

PADA exploits work by obtaining access privileges held by the TEE (in this case, the TEE built into Knox’ security platform). Sensitive data such as a user’s cryptographic keys are thus potentially exposed once an attack to the TEE is launched.

Thankfully, Samsung’s Knox security platform is continually updated, and measures to mitigate attack risks such as application vetting, and overall operating system updates, can minimize such risks.

Other Devices Developed

Samsung isn’t the only manufacturer looking into the viability of using smartphones either as a direct platform or as a second layer of access to crypto assets and blockchain applications. Over the years, other companies have developed and released crypto-focused devices of their own.

Sirin Labs, a company developing specialized hardware and software for crypto and blockchain enthusiasts, also announced and released its Finney smartphone, a secure smartphone with a built-in cold storage crypto wallet. Released in 2018, Sirin Labs claimed that it was the first ‘blockchain smartphone’ in the market, and has since developed several iterations of the device, alongside updates on its SirinOS software.

Electroneum, a blockchain mining and development firm, released the Electroneum M1, an affordable ‘blockchain phone’ that offered cloud mining capabilities through Electroneum’s mobile app, which then produces ETN, the company’s cryptocurrency.

In 2019, HTC announced its Exodus ‘cryptophone’ series. These are still available, but can only be bought with crypto. HTC released a limited edition of this device in partnership with Binance, and it was met with approval from the crypto community. The device features Zion, a proprietary TEE-based security module built for HTC.

The device’s website lists Charlie Lee, creator of Litecoin, and Dominic Williams, founder of Dfinity, among its advisors. The same site’s press room, however, has not had any updates since its announcement of the device.

As the crypto and blockchain industry undergoes rapid development, more and more technologies built for its specific use cases are to be expected. Aside from overall usability, security should be the first and foremost concern, especially given the booming adoption, growth, and acceleration of the industry in the past year.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

 

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