My goal is to see with my own eyes the vault of Xapo. This is a unique structure in addition to the fact that Bitcoins are stored here (Bitcoin), the room itself is a decommissioned Swiss military bunker in a granite mountain.
Its exact location is kept the secret, and access is limited to a multi-level security system that would be too tough for even James Bond.
It is not known how many bitcoins are stored here, but the deposits of some customers exceed millions of dollars – from time to time, they organize tours of the vault.
It is a bit unusual to realize that virtual currency requires a completely tangible bank. But she, like digital photos, needs some kind of drive. Xapo was founded by Argentine entrepreneur Vincez Casares – a “zero patient” bitcoin fever with a focus in Silicon Valley.
The bunker does not store actual bitcoins, but private cryptographic keys. These keys are paired with public keys for user identification and access to the electronic account.
Modern hackers are talented guys, and to protect themselves from them, Xapo resorts to traditional banking methods. The security level in the company borders on paranoia, and this is not at all surprising, because, in the event of a leak of information, it is impossible to catch up with the intruders, alas, as well as to return the money.
From the main road, we turn onto an inconspicuous primer and find ourselves surrounded by cows grazing peacefully. In the distance, a lonely hiker stomps. Soon we drive to the foot of the mountain, where the massive three-meter gate rises. We are met by Deltalis employee Michael Strayf.
Details run a data processing center of almost 1,000 m², where the decommissioned bunker is now located. Server racks for storing keys fill a granite space 320 meters deep. The Swiss military built the facility in 1947, and during the Cold War it served as a secret army headquarters, reports Agence France Presse. Detailed maps on the walls and ancient radio electronics remind of the military past.
Strife escorts us to the entrance to the bunker – a concrete facade jutting out from a mountain slope. In the lobby, as in most office buildings, I sign for the entrance – however, there still need to show fingerprints and take pictures.
After that, I pass through the locked cabin – a cylinder made of bullet-proof glass the size of a telephone booth. I stay in it until the operator examines me and releases me.
Passing through the cabin, we attach passes to the sensor and pass through the revolving steel doors, and then walk along the 100-meter granite tunnel. It rests on two steel red doors, which, as I am informed, can even withstand a nuclear explosion.
I try to close one of them – nothing happens. “They are locked up every night,” says Strife and shows you how to get up and where to push so that the door will give way.
Then they lead me to the “private sector” Xapo – the territory of the center, which is carefully guarded. We pass through the second security cabin and find ourselves on the threshold of an ordinary white door. Unlocking it, Strife notes, “No one has gone so far apart from the Xapo employees.”
Inside – the size of a wardrobe. There are a refrigerator and another door. But that’s all, they don’t let me on. Taking pictures is also prohibited.
About everything that is behind this last door, I later learned from Carlos Rienzi, the head of Xapo security. Rienzi chose a room for Xapo, developed luggage storage and security protocols. His “threat model” is to protect the object from attacks by “well-funded terrorist groups or hackers”.
So, in this sector, there are two more compartments of the operator’s office and the so-called “cold room”. The cold room is surrounded by steel panels that form a Faraday cage – protecting equipment from external electromagnetic pulses (EMP), which can destroy protected data, and therefore the keys to bitcoins.
For digital assets like Bitcoin, not enough thick walls and a secret headquarters – you need to provide a screen against invisible attacks, such as an electromagnetic bomb.
No one, not even an operator, can enter a cold room. It is sealed with tape, like a crime scene, so that no one can go unnoticed. Here is the equipment that is used to sign Bitcoin transactions and never connects to the Internet. The signing of the transaction takes place offline.
The operator connects to the equipment using a special cable system and sends the encrypted data for signature. To resolve the transaction will require two more signatures from two other centers located on different continents.
I ask Rienzi if he is 100% sure of his security system, and he answers, “We are under threat 24/7. This is not a race, but a chess game – you need to try to anticipate the opponent’s next move. You can not relax.