Bitcoin is a “bearer instrument” and, as such, it can only be spent by using secret (private) keys; if they are lost or stolen, there is no way to recover the associated Bitcoins. Safe management of the secret keys is therefore of paramount importance for Bitcoin holders, but such activity requires sophisticated technical skills and domain knowledge.
Secret keys are usually stored in “wallets”; however, “hot” (online, internet connected) wallets can be hacked, “cold” (offline, internet disconnected) wallets can be lost or stolen, and the PINs/passwords needed to gain access to wallets can simply be forgotten.
Consequently, individuals may be uncomfortable dealing with their Bitcoin holdings; even more if they consider issues such as inheritance and personal safety. Institutions too, they have the above security issues; moreover, they are often required by law and/or internal regulation to entrust the management of Bitcoin holdings to a specialized service provider. That’s why there are specialized companies offering professional Bitcoin custody services.
This is why CheckSig has decided to undertake a totally different approach designing its transparent open protocol for Bitcoin custody. The protocol includes patent-pending inventions, pledged to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance.
Our guiding principles:
There are four main events happening in our custody process: deposit, withdrawal, proof-of-reserves, and disaster recovery. Before describing them in detail, it is important to know that three main parties are involved:
Furthermore, CheckSig custody process uses two layers/wallets:
Both wallets are comprised of professional-grade hardware security module (HSM) devices, provided by leading manufacturers: currently, Ledger (the most reputable specialized vendor) and CryptoAdvance/Specter (the most technically advanced one).
HSM devices are used to provide the digital signatures required for a Bitcoin transaction. A HSM contains a secure element that perform the signatures using the secret keys without exposing them outside its own boundaries, so preventing the stealing of the keys even if the device is used in an unsecure or compromised environment.
In essence, deposit is very straightforward: the Client moves Bitcoins to an “address” belonging to to the Frozen Wallet and notified to the Client by CheckSig.
The withdrawal process cannot be performed by CheckSig without involving the Federation, to reduce the risk of internal CheckSig wrongdoings. At the same time, the Federation cannot initiate a withdrawal process, only CheckSig can.
The withdrawal consists of two distinct Bitcoin transactions:
At this stage, Bitcoin can only be moved to a previously approved list of addresses: it is technically impossible to move them to any other arbitrary address and this prevents any chance of Federation agents stealing Bitcoin from CheckSig and its Clients.
2. Bitcoins are moved from the Cold Wallet to the Client(s). This second “withdraw and/or redeposit” transaction requires the digital signatures of two out of three (2-of-3) CheckSig custodian agents, each signature involving a distinct HSM device held in a different safety box in a different bank in a different city. It is with this second transaction that Bitcoins are effectively withdrawn from CheckSig and returned to the Client. Furthermore, the withdraw transaction can only be performed with a four days (more precisely 4*144 blocks) “fixed time delay” after the previous unlock transaction has been confirmed by the Bitcoin network; this is to allow for security checks (see “4. Disaster Recovery” later on): in the case of any problem, Bitcoins can be redeposited back to the Frozen Wallet.
Differently from all other custodians that have access to all the assets all the time, CheckSig has direct access to Bitcoins only during the withdrawal process and only for the amounts being withdrawn. This being the only residual attack surface of the custody process, the withdrawal is covered by insurance guarantees.
The “proof-of-reserves” is provided periodically as evidence to clients and auditors about the amount under custody and, crucially, to prove that CheckSig has not lost control of the Bitcoins being held in the Frozen Wallet.
On a periodic (usually monthly) basis, using the “unlock and/or redeposit” transaction (the first one of the withdrawal process), the Bitcoins that have not been unlocked to satisfy withdrawal requests are moved from the Frozen Wallet back to the Frozen Wallet itself. This redeposit (i.e., spend-to-self) part of the “unlock and/or redeposit” transaction, being confirmed by the Bitcoin network, is public on the Bitcoin blockchain and is documented on the CheckSig website as “proof-of-reserves”.
A disaster recovery procedure is activated when:
A recovery transaction requires the digital signatures of two out of three (2-of-3) CheckSig recovery agents, provided using HSM recovery devices, each held in a different safety box in a different bank in a different city. These HSM devices are accessible to CheckSig agents only with the informed explicit approval of a notary, after an independent audit of the disaster scenario.
More specifically, there are two different kind of recovery transactions: