NGRAVE built the world’s coldest and most secure crypto hardware wallet by following the ‘What if?’ methodology. We tested, and made contingencies, for every conceivable scenario that might compromise the security of our family of products and therefore your funds. In this article, we’ll look specifically at the implications for customers of ‘what if NGRAVE goes out of business?’
Our aim in posing this question is to demonstrate that NGRAVE’s focus is to enable you to protect and control your funds, no matter what. As sad it makes us to even type these words, ‘what if’ has to include the possibility that NGRAVE goes out of business.
Considering that extreme outcome is actually a good way to illustrate what self-custody of cryptocurrency really means. So let’s play this morbid scenario out.
To understand the details below you’ll need to understand the following references:
ZERO - This is the brand name of our hardware wallet. Read this article to understand how it works.
Perfect Key - NGRAVE’s equivalent of a 24-word wallet Seed, both of which are alternative representations of a 256-bit Private Key.
GRAPHENE - A complementary product to the ZERO designed to record the Perfect Key on two high-quality stainless steel plates with a method that removes a single point of failure.
NGRAVE puts you in control
Once you’ve purchased and correctly set up the NGRAVE ZERO, you are fully in control of your funds. That is the whole point of non-custodial hardware wallets. Post-purchase, NGRAVE’s role is to improve product usability via updates and support.
‘Correctly set-up’ is in bold because this assumes you have securely stored an offline backup of your Perfect Key on the GRAPHENE. This step cannot be skipped.
If you’ve made a secure backup of your Perfect Key, NGRAVE ceasing to exist as a business won’t make any difference to the security of your funds. What happens next will, however, differ slightly depending on the exact circumstances of this hypothetical situation. So let’s play those out.
1. What if NGRAVE folds but you have a functioning ZERO & Perfect Key backup?
If your ZERO is functioning normally and you have a backup of your Perfect Key the news that NGRAVE has gone belly up will make no immediate difference. You would need, however, to consider the following:
The longevity of the device
As robust as the ZERO is, with a strong metal outer device casing tightly sealed to a tamper-proofed screen, no device will last forever, so you’d need to plan ahead for that scenario knowing you won’t be able to buy a new replacement.
You should never buy a second-hand ZERO off somewhere like eBay - or any hardware wallet for that matter - because this breaks the User’s Eyes Only Principle. Once the official NGRAVE shop closes any devices claiming to be new should at this point also be treated as fake.
With this in mind you have a couple of options:
Buy an alternative brand hardware wallet immediately, convert the Perfect Key/import the Seed & ditch the ZERO
Wait until the Zero stops working then buy an alternative & convert the Perfect Key/import the Seed, ditch the ZERO
Declining Usability, Not Security
What should influence your decision is the absence of any ongoing support for the firmware that runs the ZERO which we periodically update to support new coins and improve device security. You can see the latest version and the changes that are included here.
The impact of this will become greater over time with usability gradually declining and support of new coins becoming more relevant but you will always retain access to your funds via your Perfect Key.
For both A & B options you’ll need to know how to convert the NGRAVE Perfect Key into a 24-word Seed format.
This will allow you, when the time comes, to buy a different brand of hardware wallet and reimport your wallet.
Our Perfect Key is NGRAVE’s interpretation of the standard 256-bit Private Key format. So long as you have a copy, there are online tools to convert into it the 24-word Seed format aka the BIP39 Mnemonic. We recommend https://iancoleman.net/.
Having converted the Perfect Key into the more common 24-word Seed format you can re-import it into a new device. We obviously can’t walk you through exactly how that would work as each manufacturer might vary, but the general process will be similar to how you can import the Perfect Key into the ZERO, if you lose it and set up a replacement.
This really is the only circumstance where you should be typing out your Seed online as it is the perfect territory for scammers to create spoof sites to capture your Seed and drain your wallet.
So when converting your Perfect Key be very careful about only using the official version of the recommended conversion tool and make sure the device you are using has been virus-checked for key-logging malware. For more on this, read our article on security best-practice.
The Coleman tool is a download from Github. To maximise your security you should disconnect from the internet to use it.
If you decide to generate the 24-word Seed in advance you should store an offline copy, treating it with the same level of security as the Perfect Key backup. Just bear in mind that you cannot use the GRAPHENE solution to record it, as the plate only supports the Hexadecimal format.
2. What if NGRAVE folds & you have non-functioning Zero but Perfect Key backup?
If NGRAVE is out of business and you suddenly find your device isn’t working, this might send you into a sudden cold sweat, but as long as you have a backup of your Perfect Key your funds are safe and you are in the same position as the first scenario; you’ll just be put to greater inconvenience.
To be able to access your funds you’ll need to immediately convert the Perfect Key into the more common 24-word Seed format (as above), purchase a new hardware wallet from a competitor and re-import your wallet.
3. What if NGRAVE folds, you have a non-functioning device & No Perfect Key backup?
These scenarios assume NGRAVE fails as a business but you’ve followed the ZERO set-up process and have a backup of your Perfect Key. Pursuing our ‘what if’ approach further, we have to highlight what happens if you didn’t follow that crucial step.
Now regardless if NGRAVE goes out of business or not, if your device isn’t working and you haven’t followed the set-up process correctly to keep a secure copy of your Perfect Key, then there is no sugar-coating it - you will never be able to access your funds. Scammers might try and tell you otherwise, but you’ll just be throwing good money after bad.
Self-custody means you have full control over your funds but must also take full responsibility for maintaining a backup of your Perfect Key. The NGRAVE ZERO ships as standard with a waterproof and non-shreddable Seed paper option to record your Perfect Key which you should store somewhere secure.
Rather than rely on the paper option, our recommended approach to Key storage is to combine the ZERO with the GRAPHENE, consisting of two stainless steel plates - resistant to temperatures up to 1375°C (2507°F), water, corrosion damage and shocks.
GRAPHENE - The ultimate backup
The steel sheets of the GRAPHENE are used to physically imprint the 64-character pattern of the Perfect Key generated from a combination of numbers and letters, a format known as Hexadecimal.
One plate is blank stainless steel, while the other is a grid consisting of 64 columns, each with 16 character options (0-9 & A-F) and holes, for a total of 1,024 positions.
The grid plate fits exactly onto the blank plate, and the user punches the Seed generated by the ZERO during set-up, through the corresponding holes in the upper plate, embossing the Perfect Key onto the lower plate.
A pen is provided featuring a click-mechanism that automates the physical power exertion required to “punch” the hole in the lower GRAPHENE plate without damaging the upper one.
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Given that the process of generating the Perfect Key involves user interaction and biometrics - fingerprint and the input of a light sensor - NGRAVE has no way of knowing what the key is or might be, as the difficulty to brute force it becomes too high.
The order of the columns is unique to each plate so there is no way to have prior knowledge of the upper GRAPHENE template.
The use of two plates enables the Perfect Key to be split into two parts, which on their own are agnostic and reveal no detail of the Seed.
Under normal circumstances, there is also an option to get a replacement top sheet if it is lost but if NGRAVE is no longer around this won’t be possible.
This underlines the importance of not only recording your Perfect Key on the GRAPHENE but storing the two plates somewhere securely. You can buy as many blank bottom sheets as you wish, they are inexpensive and will provide some redundancy.
Protect Your Seed & Your Funds Are Safe
The tl;dr of this thought experiment is that whatever happens, which includes the unlikely event of NGRAVE going out of business, you’ll be able to recover your funds if:
you create a backup of the Perfect Key
that backup is resilient
the backup is securely stored
Tick off those three items and you can sleep safely, we’ll worry about keeping the lights on at NGRAVE HQ.