Tool of the week: Volt wallet

The Volt Wallet – A first look

Announced quite a while ago (at least in BSV-years), Laxo released the beta version of their wallet in January this year. Yesterday (19.5.2020) Laxo released the first public version of their BSV wallet, named Volt.

As the first wallet to implement Threshold Signatures we took it upon us to test it:

Very solid for a first release, nice and clean interface, multiple accounts, desktop & mobile app, there is a lot to like. The killer feature: security without seed phrases! (more on that later)

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Why all the fuzz?

Threshold Signatures are a big deal because they improve privacy, security and convenience of bitcoin wallets:

  • Security: This part is crypto-magic: The private key to sign a transaction never exists! Hackers can hack your computer all they want, they won’t find any key to get access to your coins.
  • Privacy: the resulting transaction looks the same as any standard payment transaction. Unlike “traditional” multisig transactions no one can tell how many entities and what their addresses are.
  • Convenience: If someone loses their share of the private key, the key can still be recovered from the remaining parts (more below). Compare that to “traditional2 multisig: if one participant loses his private keys it’s game over.

How does it work?

In nutshell: to sign a transaction, n entities (think persons, companies, ..) have a part of the information needed to reconstruct the private key. To sign a transaction, a subset of those n entities have to sign the transaction, e.g. 2-of-3, or 25 of 101.

(Source: nakasendoproject.org)

The process works in a way that the entities never share any secret information with each other, making it inherently secure. We mentioned above that the private key never exists in this process: Instead of assembling a key and then signing the transaction each participant signs with his part of the private key and the signatures are then combined into the signature corresponding to the transaction.

There are many use cases for Threshold Signatures: they could be used for elections, to formalise and document authorisation processes in enterprises, to build non-custodial wallets (e.g. Volt) etc.

You can find a detailed description here.

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What’s Volt got to do, got to do with it?

Volt uses Threshold Signatures to overcome one of the biggest onboarding hurdles in Bitcoin: the need to write down the 12-word-seed, and even worse, the need to keep it safe.

No such thing in Volt: to sign up and open a wallet you only need your email address. You don’t even need to create a password, Volt uses facial recognition to log in to the application!

Once you have created your Volt wallet, there are 3 parties holding the parts of your private keys: your own wallet and 2 Trusthold services, currently Volt itself and Maxthon (a company which currently develops an internet browser with BSV integration).

When you want to send money from your wallet, 2 of the three parties need to sign. For everyday use this means that your wallet signs the transaction, and one of the other two parties, either Volt or Maxthon. But what happens if e.g. you lose your phone, and can’t access your wallet anymore? Easy: since you are identified by your email and facial recognition, you can just download the app on another wallet, sign-in by entering your e-mail and showing your face and you’ll have access to your funds again. At the same time neither Volt nor Maxthon can grab your funds and run away. In the future there will be more Trusthold services so you have the choice of a more diverse set of entities. Pretty cool.

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Compare this approach to how Handcash is currently handling this: The seed (from which your private keys can be derived) is split between you and Handcash. If either you or Handcash loses the seed, you cannot get hold of your money. (Note from the editors: This seems ok though, since Handcash is targeted towards daily use for lesser amounts of money. Also Handcash is publicly known, a solid and trustworthy enterprise, no need to be paranoid about it.)

Volt is an offering for users who want to safekeep their BSV and in the future any other digital asset based on BSV, e.g. all kinds of tokens,  for a longer time span. For instance Volt announced that they plan to integrate a token for BTC and Ethereum.

 

What’s the look and feel?

Volt has a mobile app, a browser based interface and a Desktop app for Mac & Windows.

The mobile app greets the user with a clean look:

At the top of the page you can choose if you want to view your “Personal” (standard single user) accounts or your “Shared” accounts. “Shared” accounts are multi user accounts that make use of the Threshold Signature scheme mentioned above.

Why “accounts” in plural form? Because you can have many accounts in your Volt wallet, a capability that currently few wallets have (Actually, only simply.cash comes to mind). An account is like a separate wallet, but administered by the same identity. An account has its own addresses and therefore allows you to manage your money in different chunks, e.g. you could keep your accounting tidy by creating an account for private and a separate one for business expenses, see the example above

You see the amount of BSV and the equivalent in the fiat currency of your choice for all your accounts, and of course which accounts you have. In this example we have an account for private and a separate one for business use.

Once you open an account to use, it is at the first glance the standard fare for wallets: you see the balance of the account, the transactions, and can send and receive funds. Volt supports paymail, of course.

But there are few very neat featurettes here and there: When you click on a transaction to view the details, a little window pops up with pretty much complete details, rather then sending you to a block explorer in a galaxy far far away. Nice!

Another one: to send funds rather than scanning a QR-code from a screen you can upload a picture of the QR-code from your phone. Neat!

Also neat: the process to setup a shared wallet: simply choose the “Shared” wallet tab, then click “+” to add a wallet. The following dialog appears:

Fill in the details, click “create”, and the other members get a notification from their respective Volt wallets. One clicke on the notification, another one to open the new shared wallet, and a final one to join the wallet, and it’s done. Splendid!

Sending funds with a shared wallet is easy as well: Send the funds just as with a personal account and the other members will get a transaction in their transaction list with a tag that the transaction is waiting to be signed.

Open the transaction and you can see the details:

Open the transaction, click “sign”, done. Beautiful!

 

The overall feel of the app on Android is good: everything is slick, smooth animations, but all decent. The UI is good, almost everything felt natural.

 

And now for something completely different!

Actually, not that much: The web wallet offers the same functionality as the mobile app. It’s just very convenient to have a web wallet, and not being forced to type and fiddle on a mobile phone. I like to use a mouse and a keyboard every once in a while. There, I said it.

Login to the web wallet is done by scanning a QR-code with the mobile app.

The home screen looks like this:

Sending money looks like this:

Basically the web wallet offers the same functionality as the mobile app, so we are done here.

What’s the verdict, your honor?

It may have transpired in the paragraphs before that we like this wallet. It’s smooth, clean, easy to use, pretty complete. The not-having-to-write-down-a-12-word-seed-and-having-the-funds-secure-feature is awesome.

The handling of the shared accounts is as easy as it can be. The whole thing feels well designed and thought through. Facial recognition worked very well: The app recognised me face even on a bumpy bus ride in less then optimal light.

Some nitpicking must be done though:

  • On mobile, Volt refused to work over a VPN-connection and wouldn’t accept email addresses that it deemed too long.
  • Sometimes the Volt app was unresponsive, and had to be restarted to work again.

Hopefully these quirks will be ironed out soonish so that Volt can live up to its full potential.

Overall: a double lovelike from the tech editors at MetanetWeekly!

Update 21.5.2020: The issue with long email addresses has been fixed now.

 


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