Samsung Blockchain Platform SDK revealed – here’s how it helps cryptocurrency adoption
At the intersection of smartphones, security and blockchain, there's a tough obstacle to wider cryptocurrency adoption.
The Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone has a number of features. One of them, which probably doesn't make it onto the mental shopping list of most phone buyers, is Samsung Blockchain Keystore, a secure offline enclave built into the phone.
This functionally put a cryptocurrency hardware wallet into the centre of the phone, making it one of a handful of smartphones that are able to securely access the blockchain app (dapp) ecosystem. Those features went a long way towards cementing the Samsung Galaxy S10 as the pre-eminent cryptocurrency-friendly mainstream smartphone.
Samsung is now doubling down on its crypto-happy credentials by announcing the Samsung Blockchain Platform SDK at the SDC19 Samsung developer's conference, along with the integration of Ledger hardware wallets.
What does that actually mean?
An SDK (software development kit) is like a set of all-in-one tools that make it much easier to build software. Samsung has created an SDK for blockchain developers. This will make it much easier for people to build new dapps as well as make it easier to integrate blockchain features such as cryptocurrency payments into existing apps.
As Samsung describes it: "The new SDK not only allows DApps, many of which are web based, the ability to seamlessly integrate their apps into a mobile space, it is also highly attractive for legacy apps that want to integrate blockchain features, such as enabling payment with cryptocurrency."
More specifically, it makes it easier for developers to allow their users to create new "blockchain accounts" and makes it easier for developers to let users access existing blockchain accounts in dapps.
Basically, the SDK makes it much easier for developers to go crypto with new or existing apps and to leverage blockchain technology where it's sensible to do so.
These "blockchain accounts" that Samsung refers to are more frequently known by their other name: wallets.
Mass adoption imminent?
"One of the major obstacles of taking blockchain mobile is that, in the current environment, the majority of blockchain applications are PC or web based," Samsung says. "The main reason for this is security."
To understand why this is true, and the extent to which the Samsung Blockchain Platform SDK may help push blockchain adoption, we should first break down what exactly a cryptocurrency wallet is.
What a wallet actually is
The term "cryptocurrency wallet" is a bit misleading because it implies that the cryptocurrency is somehow inside the wallet.
Instead, it's more accurate to think of a cryptocurrency wallet as a magical (i.e. complicated) keychain, which can generate an infinite number of keys as well as the doors that only those keys can unlock. When you need a place to put cryptocurrency, you shake that magic keychain and it creates a brand new matching key and door combination. You put your cryptocurrency behind that door, and put the key on the chain.
In this way, you can create an almost infinite number of completely different doors on entirely different blockchains, while accessing them all through the same keychain. To make a cryptocurrency payment, or any similar blockchain transaction, you need to unlock the appropriate door in the usual way. You select the correct key from your keychain, put it into the keyhole on the relevant door and turn it.
When you hear someone talk about a cryptocurrency wallet, they're talking about the magical keychain. When someone mentions a private key, they're referring to one of the keys on that keychain. A cryptocurrency address is the entire door, while a public key is just the door's keyhole.
Security-wise, anyone can walk down the street and look at the doors and even examine the keyholes. What they can't do is deduce the shape of the matching private key by doing so. Conversely, if a thief gets their hands on one of the keys, or the entire keychain, they can easily find and unlock the matching door. This creates a situation where blockchain is theoretically 100% secure, until someone gets their hands on the key or keychain, at which point it immediately becomes 0% secure.
For the most part, the world is used to systems where a central entity, such as a bank or app developer, manages one big magic keychain (in the sense of the above analogy) and holds all the keys on behalf of its customers. This makes things easy for customers, but it also leads to data silos and prevents different apps from playing well together.
One facet of the blockchain revolution is the idea that everyone manages their own magic keychains, and developers can build a common ecosystem that's standardised around a system where everyone has their own keychain. This lets developers focus on building new things, rather than forcing everyone to endlessly build the same thing over and over again, just for a different silo with different customers.
There are two big security-related obstacles to this vision:
- Giving everyone personal control of their own magic keychain is a massive shift. People just aren't used to it.
- Cryptocurrency is worth actual money. Traditionally, hackers could only steal data and then barter that for real money, often without the victim ever noticing. But with cryptocurrency, there's a chance for direct, expensive theft of the kind that the victim instantly feels.
Put them together and you have a recipe for disaster.
You also have a major obstacle to mass blockchain adoption.
While a sufficiently savvy and security-conscious user can keep a desktop computer pretty darn isolated and secure, smartphones are designed to be constantly connected to the Internet and each other. They're expensive and popular targets of theft, they travel everywhere their owner goes, they're full of cameras, microphones and ill-advised app downloads, are frequently protected by just a four-digit PIN and are, in many ways, just not as secure as a desktop computer can be.
But right now, smartphones are taking over the world of personal devices. Finding a way to solve these cryptocurrency-related security problems on smartphones is a pretty non-negotiable part of mass adoption.
And that's what Samsung's doing.
Your cryptocurrency wallet, that is to say your magic keychain, is just software. If someone hacks into whatever device that software is on, or manages to spy on a transaction as you turn the key in the lock, they may be able to steal your keys.
But when you have a cryptocurrency hardware wallet, this is like metaphorically putting your magic keychain into a non-metaphorical physical box.
This box is the hardware wallet device that you hold in your hand. Without being able to physically access that piece of hardware, and hold it in their literal hand, someone can't remotely unlock your doors. You can't permanently instil perfect security-consciousness in everyone, so making these physical hardware wallets widely available is one of the keys to cryptocurrency mass adoption.
So, what makes a hardware wallet so secure? Why can't most existing smartphones get the job done, and what's so fancy about Samsung? The answers come down to the way hardware wallets are designed.
The first basic principle of a hardware wallet is that it secures private keys in an offline vault. The second principle is that whenever you need to unlock a door with a key, it will very carefully pull that door into the vault and unlock it there, rather than send your keys out to meet the door.
Cryptocurrency hardware wallets are designed solely for this.
The reason most smartphones can't do this is simply because they aren't built with a suitable vault. However, the Samsung Galaxy S10 is. That's why people describe it as a smartphone with a built-in cryptocurrency hardware wallet. The Samsung Blockchain Key Store is the name of the vault system on the phone, to which users can download their magic keychains.
What the Samsung Blockchain Platform SDK does is give existing dapps an easier way of reaching mobile audiences while still ensuring high security standards for the everyday user as well as giving existing apps a good way of letting users safely tap into blockchain. It also allows integration with the Ledger series of hardware wallets.
As this type of design principle spreads, more people will be able to securely access cryptocurrency and blockchain without needing to either be a security nut or the owner of a separate hardware wallet. It will also start to introduce users to the idea of cryptocurrency and blockchain being more of a normal, everyday thing.
Of course, that might also mean it's time to start thinking more carefully about who's manufacturing your phone and how secure the manufacturing process for those in-phone vaults is.
Disclosure: The author holds BNB and BTC at the time of writing.