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Tropic Square’s Open Source Secure Chip Begins Development

Back in May 2020, SatoshiLabs (the company behind Trezor, Invity, and Blockbook) has announced the launch of the Tropic Square startup – an initiative which aims to fix the transparency issues of secure chips. In a market which produces chips that don’t follow the “Don’t trust, verify” spirit of Bitcoin, SatoshiLabs seeks to bring the kind of security which is as open source and auditable as Satoshi Nakamoto’s code.

At this point in time, security that doesn’t compromise transparency sounds utopian. In recent years, we have learned to understand tradeoffs, establish personal threat models, and purchase the device whose limited features suit our needs. And in the hardware wallet market, we have the two extremes represented by Trezor (most open source) and Ledger (most physically secure), in between which we find devices that try to get the best of both worlds (BitBox02, Cobo Vault, Coldcard).

When Secure Element Chip?

According to a press release which was sent on December 10th 2020, Tropic Square has started the process which will eventually lead to the creation of a functioning prototype. The research of development part is scheduled to begin in the first months of 2021, and the company estimates that the secure element chip prototype should be delivered by the end of the year.

Tropic Square will also build the code which runs the open-source TASSIC (Transparent Authenticated Secure Storage Integrated Circuit) chip – and the application software development is projected to be completed “much sooner” than the test chip.

In the same press release, Tropic Square CTO Jan Pleskač mentioned that “Transparency and open-source are the main ideals we are building upon. We are producing the chip prototype on a programmable circuit FPGA from Lattice, a company well-known in the developer community. The final product, however, will be chip based on our design – ASIC – but programmable circuits are ideal for testing the chip before producing the test chip itself. At this moment, we are taking steps to complete a fully functional prototype, and are moving into the full R&D process at the beginning of 2021.”

Since putting out the first announcement in May 2020, Tropic Square has done market research and ran a feasibility study. The company has come to the conclusion that the multi-billion dollar industry of secure element chips really needs a truly transparent product, and identified the most fitting partners to fulfil the technical requirements.

Why Do Secure Element Chips Matter?

These auditable secure element chips will not only improve the physical security of hardware wallets, but also support other industries which require strong cryptography and provably-transparent identification.

“We wanted to make sure that our solution would also be useful to other industries, not just crypto. After many meetings, we know that a fully-auditable and open chip is important wherever the end user needs to know details about the implementation, to be able to assess its security”, said Tropic Square CEO Evžen Englberth.

In the same December 10th press release, it’s implied that Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 require both security and transparency. But the most important use in the Bitcoin space is that of increasing the security of our devices and therefore boosting our financial sovereignty. It’s possible that in a few years, we will no longer confront the same tradeoffs.

To better understand the open source philosophy of SatoshiLabs, listen to this interview with Slush.

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Vlad Costea
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