Privacy and a clean UX design have often been at odds in cryptocurrency apps. But there’s no reason why a bitcoin wallet app can’t have both.
Blockstream’s newest version (3.2.4) of its bitcoin wallet, Blockstream Green, is a legitimate step forward in combining these two attributes that have previously proven to be far more complex to deploy simultaneously.
A Tor Bitcoin Wallet for iOS Apps
Within this newly updated version of the wallet is an optional, in-app onion routing network (Tor) integration for both Android and iOS users. Before this update, Android users could use Orbot as a proxy, but there wasn’t a reliable way for iOS users to use Tor while accessing other apps. Using a VPN outside of an app worked, but it was proven unreliable, risking information leakage.
Fundamentally, Tor obfuscates a user’s IP address from their other information by sending it through a relay of other encrypted servers before it reaches the IP’s intended destination online.
To understand how this support impacts a Bitcoin user’s wallet privacy, Bitcoin Magazine spoke with Lawrence Nahum (@LarryBitcoin), creator of Blockstream Green’s precursor, Green Address, and now chief architect at Blockstream.
“We were looking for something that was simple to use, where we would be certain that Tor would be running in the background all the time,” said Nahum.
The in-app Tor integration gives iOS and Android users less hassle and more assurance of privacy and security. In simple terms, enabling Tor will mean that the Blockstream servers will continue to have information about the wallet but will not know the wallet user’s IP address or what country they are connecting from. And it’s not just Blockstream that cannot see where Green wallet users are coming from — by enabling Tor, everyone in a user’s network will be blinded to the fact that they are accessing a Blockstream Green wallet.
While this means more censorship-resistance for wallet users, the use of Tor itself can still be an undesirable signal in some countries.
“You’re still potentially leaking that you’re using Tor, and that may be something you do or don’t want to do,” said Nahum, “especially in some countries, which is why I think we [Blockstream Green’s developer team] will need to be doubly careful when considering enabling Tor as a default.”
Nahum also noted that this feature does not hinder blockchain analysis any more than blocking IP address data that hits the Blockstream servers does.
There are additional ways to hide an IP’s connection to Tor, such as using tunnels, bridges and an additional VPN. Most of these solutions are more complicated for users new to Tor; they can also be less reliable, in the case of VPNs.
The Tor Bitcoin Wallet User Experience
The Tor integration is an early access feature, so it’s still being tested. Based on one hands-on experience and messages from users in the Blockstream Green Telegram channel, there are some loading delays and time-out issues when Tor is enabled. These issues stem from the reality of using Tor right now. After all, the Tor browser is open-source software that is essentially powered by grants and a global team of volunteers.
Despite any apparent issues at this point, enabling Tor could not be made simpler. If you download the wallet on Android or iOS, then create a wallet, you can select Bitcoin or Liquid, scroll to the bottom and switch on the “connect with Tor” option. If you’ve already downloaded the wallet, you will need to log out, then back in before you do anything else.
Why Aren’t More Bitcoin Wallets Integrating Tor?
It’s not clear why more open-source bitcoin wallets aren’t adding in-app Tor support. Nahum admits that the Blockstream team contributed to some of the patches but most of what they needed in order to create the integration was already there.
“It’s there but I don’t think many people are using it, and I don’t think any other open-source Bitcoin wallets are using it because I couldn’t find anything like it on GitHub or other open-source repositories,” Nahum said.If you want to report any glitches or hear what users have to say about Blockstream Green’s new integration, visit the Telegram channel.
Dave Hollerith writes for Bitcoin Magazine and produces the Bitcoin Magazine podcast. He does not believe in watching movie trailers. He also owns bitcoin.