ForkLog editorial team got hands on with Ledger Nano S, the only known so far HD-wallet compatible with both Bitcoin and Ethereum.
Nano S is a line extension of hardware wallets manufactured by Ledger. The French startup’s new flagship product was launched on July 29, 2016, and is available for the price of 58 EUR (+VAT).
In the box
The manufacturers are staying true to themselves, so just like earlier models Nano S resembles a regular USB-stick. However, this time, in order to connect the device to a PC you will need a USB-cable which comes with the wallet.
The kit also includes an envelope with the instruction card and data recovery sheet; while the accessories include a neck strap, a phone fastening and a key ring. Remarkably, unlike the previous version of the Ledger Nano HD-wallet, a security datasheet with the individual code is no longer included.
According to the instructions, when first starting Ledger Nano S you are required to visit start.ledgerwallet.com and follow instructions on the website.
Users are first invited to select their corresponding device from the list and then move on to the initial setup or install one of the available app-wallets.
Let’s look into the first option. On the display menu, we can see more detailed instructions. First, you need to connect your wallet to the computer, after that you simultaneously press both buttons on the device case to run the configuration mode. Finally, you enter the desired PIN-code.
The control keys proved to be pretty much self-explanatory: the user sees arrows and can use the key at the corresponding side of the screen. To confirm each digit of the code you have to press two keys simultaneously (from this point on pressing both keys simultaneously will take you to the next step, so if you are not sure what to do, just press both keys).
After saving the PIN-code you will be asked to write down the 24 words from the screen on the card you can find in your package or any other safe place. These words are required to restore the wallet.
For that matter, the device can’t be configured without confirming the order of two random words in the phrase, so even to give it a test run we had to write down every word.
The final step of the configuration process is installation of Bitcoin and Ethereum wallets for Google Chrome.
As the device manual notes, your computer doesn’t necessarily has to be uncompromised since all confirmations are accepted only if you have a HD-wallet in place and have correctly entered the PIN-code bypassing the computer.
To start your wallet you have to click on the application icon in the chrome://apps browser tab, also you have to select the corresponding menu item on the connected Ledger Nano S wallet.
The design of the Bitcoin wallet application for Ledger devices hasn’t seemingly changed compared to earlier versions.
As with the earlier version, there’s no option of downloading and storing the blockchain, neither can you connect to the node you run. Correspondingly, users are limited to four standard block explores to choose from:
ETH AND ETC SUPPORT
Ledger Nano S is compatible with Ethereum, and this is arguably the most interesting innovation. This puts Ledger somewhat ahead of its competitors from Trezor who are also actively working on a wallet for the second biggest cryptocurrency by market capitalization.
When starting the app, users can select which blockchain of the Ethereum network they want to use: ETH or ETC.
However, visually the Ethereum wallet doesn’t differ that much from the one for Bitcoin, except that it has no settings at all. The three main menu buttons are responsible for the current balance, sending tokens and the receiving address.
LEDGER NANO S SECURITY
An important element of the Ledger products positioning is the wallet’s tamper resistance. At least, the previous version of the wallet has topped the Open Bitcoin Privacy Project rankings this past spring having scored 50 out of 100 points.
As you may have already noticed, the new Ledger Nano S comes with a display and control buttons. This allows you to use additional authentication factor directly from the device, i.e. it enables you to set and enter security data bypassing the computer and thereby ensuring phishing protection. This is definitely a major improvement in terms of security. Therewith:
1. The device data is erased after three consecutive failed PIN-code attempts. Since the PIN-code is entered directly on the device, there’s no need to restart the wallet after each unsuccessful attempt. However, to avoid permanent loss of data wallet recovery using mnemonic passphrases is available
2. Ledger Nano S recovery mnemonic seed consists of 24 words put in a particular order. The mnemonic phrase is generated directly on the device (not by the application on your computer, as in previous versions). It can be seen on the device and has to be written down and stored in a safe place, or on the card.
To restore the wallet with the mnemonic seed you will have to enter all the 24 words on the device using the two buttons on the wallet case. To make this task easier the manufacturer has enabled prompted entry option which appears after you type the first 3 or 4 letters.
According to the developers, the wallet’s application data is stored on a protected element inside the device (model ST31H320). At the same time, significant part of the code (primarily the wallet software) is publicly available on GitHub. Gradually, the company plans to open more parts of the code with only its partners’ software related to the hardware functioning (CPU initialization, memory, etc.) remaining hidden.
Theoretically, the new device is assumed to be compatible with Mycelium and Electrum wallets.
It’s already been several years since Ledger first started manufacturing Bitcoin HD-wallets. March 2016 saw the company releasing Blockchain Open Ledger Operating System, or BOLOS, its own blockchain-based operating system. This new OS is used in the next generation of hardware wallets – Ledger Blue, making it possible to use the wallet as a personal security device.