Follow Us

We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

3 reasons bitcoins aren't in your wallet yet

Security and flexibility are among several big challenges, experts said

Article comments

As Bitcoin's popularity grows, so does talk about its standing as legal tender, but there are lingering issues that need to be sorted out before people start using Bitcoin to buy everyday things, experts said on Monday.

Bitcoin has been described both as a store of value and a currency, but it's debatable whether it is either of those things. Its price can swing wildly from day to day, if not the hour, and its reputation has been tarnished by its connection to the sale of illegal goods and other illicit activity such as money laundering.

For those reasons and more, Bitcoin has a long way to go before it becomes a mainstream form of payment. Here are three challenges that generated some discussion on Monday at The Future of Money and Technology, a conference in San Francisco.

1. Buyer beware

For starters, Bitcoin transactions are designed to be irreversible. So if you buy something online from a merchant that accepts Bitcoin and the transaction turns out to be a scam, or the payment is sent to the wrong place, or any number of other things happen, the buyer will probably lose that money.

"You're dealing with the honesty of the vendor," said Steve Kirsch, CEO of OneID, a startup that provides encryption services to protect people's data. "It's like giving people cash," he said during a panel discussion at the conference.

Other panelists, all Bitcoin supporters, agreed that in 2014 more services could appear designed to address this problem, such as escrow accounts that could channel money back to the buyer in the case of fraudulent transactions. The Bitcoin system is built using an open-source framework, so those types of developments could actually happen.

New companies could crop up next year to address this problem. Existing players such as Bitcoin payment processors might also add new features to their services in this area, panelists said.

2. Keeping your bitcoins safe

Every bitcoin has a private key associated with it that, if decrypted, allows the bitcoin to be sent to another computer using peer-to-peer software. Because these private keys are often stored on people's personal computers or within Web-based services, bitcoins are vulnerable to theft.

"All of the existing mechanisms for security, including its [verification] signatures, are problematic," OneID's Kirsch said. Any kind of malware attack can be directed at someone's computer to steal their bitcoins, he said.

There are different ways of storing this private key. Coinbase and others offer digital wallets. Other companies have "offline" or paper-based wallets to put key ownership back into the user's hands, literally: The Bitcoin addresses and private keys are printed on a piece of paper. And the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame have even offered up a solution with so-called vaults.

But none of those strategies gets around the fact that someone still has to store the key somewhere, experts said Monday during the conference.

"If you store it wrong or leave it lying around, it's just like cash," said Jared Kenna, CEO at TradeHill, a Bitcoin exchange that suspended trading in August due to banking and regulatory issues.

One wallet system, called Armory, allows users to maintain multiple encrypted wallets.

Having too much encryption, however, might also be a bad thing. "I have friends who are encryption experts," Kenna said. Some of those friends applied so much encryption to their keys that they couldn't get them back, he said.

3. Banks aren't fully on board

Bitcoin recently garnered support from federal officials in Washington, D.C., but many commercial banks still don't really know what to think about it.

For Bitcoin users thinking about a more traditional route to keeping their monies safe, that could be a problem. The currency is designed to be without any financial or legislative authority, but maybe some regulation is needed after all, panelists said.

"The lack of regulations might do more harm than any regulation could," said TradeHill's Kenna. "When there's no clear regulations, banks don't want to touch it," he said.

Bitcoin's newfound support from Washington, and from popular figures such as entrepreneur Richard Branson, could help clear the roadblocks, others said. "There are big forces going on inside the U.S. government," said Brewster Kahle, chairman of the Internet Credit Union, a Bitcoin-friendly bank that dumped some of its Bitcoin clients this past summer, citing regulatory issues.

"I'm hoping things get a bit better," he said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com



Share:

More from Techworld

More relevant IT news

Comments



Send to a friend

Email this article to a friend or colleague:

PLEASE NOTE: Your name is used only to let the recipient know who sent the story, and in case of transmission error. Both your name and the recipient's name and address will not be used for any other purpose.

Techworld White Papers

Choose – and Choose Wisely – the Right MSP for Your SMB

End users need a technology partner that provides transparency, enables productivity, delivers...

Download Whitepaper

10 Effective Habits of Indispensable IT Departments

It’s no secret that responsibilities are growing while budgets continue to shrink. Download this...

Download Whitepaper

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Information Archiving

Enterprise information archiving is contributing to organisational needs for e-discovery and...

Download Whitepaper

Advancing the state of virtualised backups

Dell Software’s vRanger is a veteran of the virtualisation specific backup market. It was the...

Download Whitepaper

Techworld UK - Technology - Business

Innovation, productivity, agility and profit

Watch this on demand webinar which explores IT innovation, managed print services and business agility.

Techworld Mobile Site

Access Techworld's content on the move

Get the latest news, product reviews and downloads on your mobile device with Techworld's mobile site.

Find out more...

From Wow to How : Making mobile and cloud work for you

On demand Biztech Briefing - Learn how to effectively deliver mobile work styles and cloud services together.

Watch now...

Site Map

* *