This may sound as science fiction, but storing data in DNA is an established practice, which has been proposed by scientists as a practical cold storage option for cryptocurrencies. At the 2015 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, researcher Nick Goldman presented his work on DNA-storage and issued the Davos Bitcoin Challenge: Test tubes containing samples of DNA encoding 1 Bitcoin were distributed to the audience. The first person to sequence (read) the DNA and decode the files it contains would take possession of the Bitcoin.
“Bitcoin is a form of money that now only exists on computers, and with cryptography, that’s something we can easily store in DNA,” said Goldman. “We’ve bought a Bitcoin and encoded the information into DNA. You can follow the technical description of our method and sequence the sample, decode the Bitcoin. Whoever gets there first and decodes it gets the Bitcoin.”
In January this year, the European Bioniformatics Institute announced that a PhD student has sequenced the DNA and taken ownership of the Bitcoin.
An early user comment featured in Carverr's website reads:
"Carverr's DNA storage system allows me to pass my digital currencies on to my heirs without worrying about security or decaying technology."
According to many experts, DNA storage is more efficient and durable than other known forms of digital data storage. The technology offers high-density storage and can preserve digital data for centuries without degradation. "In one gram of synthetic DNA, scientists could theoretically fit 215 petabytes of information," notes CNET. "That's over 100 million movies in something that's smaller than a jellybean - and it lasts hundreds of years."
"DNA is the only thing that won't become obsolete," said Carverr co-founder and CEO Vishaal Bhuyan. "So the way I look at it, this is a trust or 401(k) that you can allocate some of your assets to and keep for a very, very long period of time."
Bhuyan disclosed to CNET that 28 customers so far have signed up and paid the $1,000 fee to store crypto assets in DNA. Carverr is also talking to banks and other large cryptocurrency holding companies.
How does DNA cold storage with Carverr work?
- The customer sends the private key for a crypto asset to Carverr, using the encrypted email service Protonmail. The customer is encouraged to send an encrypted version of the private key instead of the original private key, so that Carverr doesn't have the original.
- Carverr uses a special algorithm to convert the data sent by the customer to a string of ATCG bases, and manufactures a strand of synthetic DNA, using the string of bases.
- Carverr sends a vial with the synthetic DNA back to the customer. Alternatively, the customer can choose to have Carverr store the vial.
- If and when needed, Carverr retrieves the original private key by sequencing the synthetic DNA, and sends the data to the customer through encrypted email.
If malicious parties steal the vial, they are unable to decode the data without knowing the details of Carverr's DNA encoding scheme, and the second encryption key used by the customer.
This seems as a cool way to securely store a private key. If you lose the key, you can ask Carverr to retrieve it for you. The question that comes to my mind is, what if you also lose your second encryption key.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
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Crypto Insider Editor Giulio Prisco is a writer specialized in science, technology and business. He is persuaded that crypto has the potential to bring disruptive positive changes to the internet and society at large.