Cryptographic Asset had the opportunity to sit down with the Mycelium project, which was started with the goal of creating an independent, self-powered, ad-hoc network and infrastructure which could form wherever enough nodes came together. Having been before the days of bitcoin, the main purpose of this network was text messaging between active and present nodes within a radius of 300 meters. Bitcoin changed this, as the development team realized bitcoin fit perfect into the project’s goals. They re-focused their efforts.
Today Mycelium consists of 35 people in Europe, America and Asia. A team of world-class specialists works tirelessly today to ensure bitcoin can be used in all areas of economic activity and everyday life.
We interview Dmitry Murashchik, Mycelium’s community manager. Dmitry has been involved in digital currencies since 2003, a background in IT and software development, and has a Master’s in Global Finance and Economics from UMD Smith School of Business. He joined the Mycelium team in early 2014.
What is your role at Mycelium?
DM: I am their Community Manager. My job is to keep in touch with the community through social media, announce our product developments, answer questions, collect feature requests, and advise the developers on what features are the most requested. I also spend my free time helping out with whatever other non software development tasks they need, such as research of potential technology to implement, ideas for designs, marketing and representing at conferences, and tech support.
What sparked your interest in Bitcoin?
DM: I have had plenty of prior experience playing around with and investing in digital currencies on platforms like Second Life. When I found out about bitcoin, it was basically all the same interests I have had with other virtual currencies, without the issues or risks of centralized control and restrictions.
What got you started on Mycelium?
DM: Jan Møller, one of our lead developers, came up to me at the San Jose conference in 2013, and demonstrated a new feature he was working on, which was the ability to import bitcoin private keys, and spending directly from paper wallets, including ones that are BIP38 encrypted. These advanced address management features were missing on all the other wallets (still are), and got me hooked. Much later on, they put up a hiring request for someone who is in touch with the community. Since I spent so much time being involved on Reddit, Bitcointalk forums, and elsewhere, reading up on everything bitcoin related, and had somewhat of an established reputation, I guess I was a good fit.
Can you tell me more about BIP38?
DM: BIP38 is a way to encrypt a private key using key stretching, where to decrypt a key you have to run the password through a function with many iterations that ends up using up a lot of computer resources and memory. It uses the same type of function used for mining by scrypt based coins, like Litecoin. This prevents anyone from being able to bruteforce the password to a stolen private key, even if the password is fairly short, since it takes so much more time to try every single password combination compared to traditional encryption methods.
What was your original vision?
DM: Mycelium’s original vision is still the same vision it is today: to make bitcoin penetration as prevalent in the lives of people as internet is today. We want to make bitcoin easy to use for everyone, have enough features to satisfy advanced users, and be usable anywhere, even without the need for internet and electricity infrastructure.
Has that vision changed since the beginning?
What were some challenges for Mycelium along the way?
DM: This is a very new and emerging technology market, both in software and hardware. There isn’t an example of someone else’s work to follow. So a lot of challenges are related to us having to find our own way, and figuring things out as we are working on them. For example, our Mycelium Bitcoincard uses a lot of cutting edge technologies, like flexible batteries and displays, and micro-sized radio transmitters. There aren’t any large established manufacturers of such technologies, so we have to constantly keep searching for companies that have started manufacturing things invented just recently. We also had issues where some of the companies that created those technologies would go out of business, and we would end up losing a few months looking for another company that makes a close substitute, at which point we may be required to redesign our product a bit.
For our software side, our main challenge has been trying to keep up with innovation in the Bitcoin space. So many people are constantly coming out with such great new ideas that it has been hard to implement them in a timely manner. I think our To Do list of features we want to add or improve upon is almost up to 80 items now, and that’s not including the things we would have to add or fix once we implement some of the bigger changes on the list.
How has the response been?
DM: It has been wonderful! Our users have been very supportive, providing us with tons of feedback and suggestions, and have been very understanding when we stumble somewhere, or take a bit too long to finish something up. We are glad that they understand that this is still all brand new innovation, and everyone is still just discovering everything.
How has the bitcoin ecosystem change since Mycelium first was made available?
DM: The number of bitcoin users has increased quite a bit, there are a lot more merchants available that take bitcoin, and the pace of new innovation around bitcoin has accelerated quite a bit.
We recently released a major version update that implements Hierarchically Deterministic (HD) wallets, which allows our users to back up all their bitcoin addresses and wallets using a simple 12 word “seed,” which was only standardised fairly recently. This means that our wallets should be compatible, and be able to be restored, on a number of other bitcoin wallets and devices. Other features we are looking forward to add are built-in CoinJoin mixing for greatly increased privacy, BIP70 merchant protocol support for improved payment convenience and security, and TrustZone support for greatly improved private key security. So many things to do and add, so little time, and we are sure that by the time we get around to them there will be a ton of other new improvements to try to catch up to.
How is wallet file protected on phone?
DM: The wallet is stored in a database, which resides in a protected storage area of the phone. It can also be protected by a user set PIN number. For extra security, the wallet also supports Cold Storage spending, including from BIP38 password encrypted private keys. Users can carry an encrypted private key as a QR code printed on a piece of paper, and when they wish to spend, they can scan it into the wallet’s memory, enter the password to decrypt it, create a transaction as normal, and as soon as they hit send, all change gets sent back to the paper wallet, and the private key is securely wiped from memory (we plan to extend this feature to work with HD keys as well).
This way the key is not stored anywhere on the phone, and is not exposed to any potential risks. It’s not as secure as dedicated hardware wallets, but we think it’s close. Our near term future plans are to implement support for something called AMD TrustZone, and we are in talks with companies who are programming support for that system. When that is done, your keys will be stored on hardware that is totally separate from the rest of your phone, working as if it was a dedicated hardware wallet tethered to it by a cable, except it will be built right into your Android phone, and using hardware that most users have on their phones already.
What’s the most you’ve ever seen someone store on a Mycelium wallet?
DM: I don’t generally go around looking at other people’s wallet balances, and Mycelium has no way of knowing how much people have, since we don’t keep track of anyone’s addresses or balances. Personally, though, the most I ever carried was a bit over $15,000. That was when Bitcoin went from $100 to $1000 in a span of a few months, and my spending cash ended up growing to a considerable amount before I realized it. It felt weird carrying the equivalent of an automobile in my pocket, but is definitely not something I would do with cash. I sometimes carry a few thousand with me when I travel, to use for general spending, and I always feel much safer carrying that money as encrypted and secured bitcoin than as cash or traveler’s checks.
How does Mycelium differ from other wallets?
DM: Each wallet seems to have its own niche. Ours is currently “more advanced features,” like multiple address support and cold storage spending, and in the future we hope to have much more advanced privacy and security. Honestly, though, we’re not sure what other wallet developers are working on, so maybe in the end we’ll all have similar key features. Which is still good, since that means that bitcoin users will have all the important things covered regardless of what wallet they go with.
What do you hope Mycelium helps bitcoiners achieve?
DM: We hope Mycelium will help bitcoiners be able to use bitcoin more easily, and with greater security and privacy. In the long run, we just hope to be able to create more bitcoiners.
What are the plans for the future?
DM: Just keep expanding to more and more bitcoin services, developing more and more bitcoin hardware, and bringing better and easier-to-use innovation to bitcoiners and the rest of the world. Like Bitcoin, we hope our company’s future is binary: either we will fold and disappear, or we will end up taking over the world. And we have been working very hard to not disappear.