There’s an unmentionable barrier to mainstream XRP adoption that I see infrequently discussed in cryptocurrency circles. It is the complexity of storing these tokens securely in a self-custodial manner. The frequently repeated jingle “not your keys, not your crypto” is so often hurled in the direction of someone who has lost funds when a popular exchange or key custodial service is hacked without consideration as to why they may have felt the need to store their funds there. We can see the benefits of a decentralized digital currency with fast transaction times, and we champion XRP to all who will listen, but would you trust your less tech-inclined relatives to purchase and store a large amount of it without your help?
The crypto space fantasizes about ubiquitous real-world adoption and breaks out the rocketship memes whenever the price shows a little green, but we still haven’t figured out a good way for the less technically savvy to use crypto safely absent a custodian. The assumption is that most people are like us – that they are willing to set up a hardware wallet with the additional password setup and the bip39 codes written down in case the hardware fails. If that all seems simple enough to you, go to one of your relatives who doesn’t have technologist tendencies and watch their eyes gloss over as you try and explain it to them. Three recent Xspring investments seem geared towards this problem to XRP adoption.
The investment announcements came in the trinity of hardware, software, and biometric key management technologies. First was BRD, a popular non-custodial cryptocurrency wallet on Oct 11th. Following that was an investment in Towo Labs on Oct.16th – which develops open-source software that enables all XRPL transaction types on hardware wallets. The third investment was to Keyless on Oct.30th, an authentication and identity management technology that uses biometrics to authenticate users.
One of the interesting things I noticed about the Keyless platform is that it allows the generation of private keys using biometric features. This enables a user to sign cryptographic challenges using a variety of biometric devices once the Keyless neural-net has authenticated their biometrics. It should also allow a user to generate private keys with biometric data instead of using a 24 word list of the kind found in popular cryptocurrency hardware wallets like the Ledger.
If a user didn’t have to store a 24 word passphrase and could instead use something like his fingerprints or some other kind of biometric data to restore and transact with a cryptocurrency wallet, it would solve a major cryptocurrency ease of use problem. A document linked on the keyless website indicated:
Biometric authentication technologies have been less than perfect in the past, but they would make remote exploitation effectively impossible. An attacker would have to physically capture biometric data and duplicate it to trick a sensor’s hardware into unlocking a wallet. While this would be a security issue for an individual with millions of dollars in cryptocurrency, your average person would most likely fly under the radar. A cryptocurrency wallet could also require an optional passphrase to restore for people who want the added security benefit.
The mention of the Keyless neural-net is also important, as they claim to have figured out a way to make biometric authentication across devices more secure using an independent authentication scheme.
Biometric key generation for cryptocurrency wallets could also enable a user to register a chain of inheritance where, if a Keyless blockchain integrated service had detected that a user had not logged in for several months (or however long the owners wished), it could enable account recovery with the biometrics of a relative whom the original user had listed as an heir.
Towo Labs develops open-source software for hardware wallets. The explicitly stated focus of the investment was to enable all different XRPL transaction types on hardware wallets like the Ledger Nano. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Keyless and Towo technologies will be interoperable, but it also doesn’t preclude some biometric authentication mechanism using Towo tech that authenticates all kinds of potential XRPL transactions with a hardware wallet that authenticates with Keyless.
The BRD Wallet
This Coindesk article mentions that Keyless will have integrations with two existing cryptocurrency wallet customers. Keyless specifically mentions Casa and Argent in a article published on their website, but it did not indicate that these two cryptocurrency wallets were the ones being integrated:
This statement illustrates that they are confident enough in the accuracy of their authentication neural-net that they suggest a hardware wallet isn’t a necessary feature to secure Keyless transactions. Their website indicates that their neural-net can even authenticate using a picture captured by a device camera:
Given Ripple’s focus on creating an interoperable cryptocurrency ecosystem, it seems likely that they would invest Xpring funds into companies that intend to integrate with each other in a holistic manner, so it is possible that we could see BRD Wallet integration of Keyless biometric technology. This is hardly definitive but it is curious that these three Xpring announcements all came within the same month. At the very least, it indicates a strong push towards investing in ease-of-use technologies that would make the XRP and Ripple software ecosystem more accessible.
These kinds of technologies are essential for crypto adoption with the general public. An authentication and identity management scheme that integrates into hardware and software wallets without the complicated process of storing and maintaining key phrases or backup codes opens access to cryptocurrencies and other forms of digital asset transactions to the public in a way that hasn’t existed before. Ease of use is paramount towards general adoption by the public. If people could authenticate using biometric data, it would finally make cryptocurrencies accessible to anyone that is able to work the biometrics on a smartphone.