Tropic Square’s ambitious project to deliver fully transparent and auditable secure element chips is big news for the Bitcoin hardware industry. Lots of products, from hardware wallets to nodes, can benefit from the elimination of trust in manufacturers and NDAs. And given the fact that these chips will be as open source as everything Satoshi Labs has ever created (including the Trezor hardware wallets), this is great news all across the board.
To better fulfil this ambitious project, Tropic Square has recently raised another €4 million from the Swiss-based investment company Auzera. And if everything goes on according to the plans, the TASSIC (Transparent Authenticated Secure Storage Integrated Circuit) will get introduced to the world by the end of 2022.
Since the Tropic Square start-up is owned by Satoshi Labs and the same company is responsible for creating the world’s first hardware wallet, it should be pretty obvious that the TASSIC’s first use will serve the Trezor devices. But the interesting part is that the press release hints about this integration in the same sentence where they announce the estimated launch of the TASSIC.
This opens up the doors of speculation and only makes us wonder: are we going to get a new Trezor hardware wallet by the end of 2022 as a way of demonstrating the capabilities of Tropic Square’s TASSIC open source chip? Because if that will be the case, then this event should be a game changer on the hardware wallet market.
Tropic Square’s TASSIC vs ATEC608A (Used in Coldcard, BitBox02, Passport)
Right now, devices like the BitBox02, the Coldcard, and the Foundation Devices Passport use the ATEC 608A chip, which is general-purpose but still not entirely auditable. It’s an interesting trade-off which provides some physical security at the expense of making the entire device less auditable. So on a scale of open sourceness which goes from 1 to 10, these hardware wallets aim for an 8.
On the other hand, the Trezor hardware wallets have always been on the 10 side of the spectrum when it came to open sourceness – even if this meant that the devices would suffer from lower physical security. Slush himself, the inventor of the world’s first mining pool and the co-inventor of the world’s first hardware wallet, has expressed his strong advocacy for open source hardware and software. In S4 E8 of the Bitcoin Takeover Podcast, he compared his work on Bitcoin products with Satoshi Nakamoto’s philosophy to keep everything transparent and auditable:
Now, with the addition of Tropic Square’s TASSIC chip, there will be no such tradeoff. And the best part about it is that everything is open source and will most likely get forked by every other company. This translates in better security for all hardware wallet owners, regardless of brand.
So we shouldn’t be surprised if we all start upgrading our hardware wallets in early 2023, so we can benefit from the open source power of TASSIC chips.
Tropic Square Is Disrupting A Market That Was Worth Over 3 Billion Dollars In 2018
According to a statement by Slush (Marek Palatinus), even if the creation of the Tropic Square TASSIC chip originates from a need for Trezor to receive open source hardware improvements, the market for it far exceeds the Bitcoin realm. The TASSIC can be used in ATMs, smartphones, credit cards, laptops, and lots of other devices that require secure chips.
The main competitive advantage of Tropic Square’s ambitious project is the trustless open source architecture. It’s objectively more secure to use chips that you can 100% audit, and even if there is no concern for hidden malicious activity there might be jurisdictions which draft legal frameworks for greater transparency and accountability for data storage. Soon enough it will no longer be an issue of “if” the data is secured, as the question transcends into the realm of “how”.
The Trezor co-founders, Slush and Stick, often talk about their bad experience with secure chip manufacturers and the fact that they had to sign NDAs – documents which effectively obscure the events taking place inside the chips and therefore add a layer of opaqueness to something that was designed to be open source and transparent.
When dealing with sensitive data, it’s important to understand all the intricacies of your security setup and be able to verify every process taking place in the background. Furthermore, it’s essential to be able to improve on the existing security model through the contributions of open source developers. If something exists out in the wild, has lots of people auditing it and there’s an incentive to break it, then it will only become more scrutinized and tested over time. The same happened to Bitcoin, the same is happening with the Trezor design and code, and the same will be happening with Tropic Square’s TASSIC open source chip.
Bitcoin has showed us that open source code can disrupt the global financial system. Now, with similar ambitions, Satoshi Labs’ Tropic Square is trying to prove that the same can be done with security chips for physical resilience via strong encryption.
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