In cooperation with a leading global cryptocurrency exchange, DATANA successfully encoded a crypto wallet private key into a DNA molecule in a move towards a safer ecosystem for cryptocurrency holders.
This is the first-ever attempt to save a private key, a password used to unlock a cryptocurrency digital wallet, into a synthetic DNA molecule. The stunt was engineered to provide a glimpse of the future of secure, safe cryptocurrency handling.
Forgotten, stolen, or otherwise misplaced private keys have long been a thorn in the foot of the cryptocurrency industry. Today, over $140 billion worth of cryptocurrencies are locked away in stranded wallets by people who forgot their keys, rendering their funds lost forever. This amounts to about a fifth of all cryptocurrencies in circulation and is rising.
Technically speaking, a private key is typically a 256-bit string of letters and numbers used to unlock a cryptocurrency wallet known only to the user. Since storing private keys online poses a real risk for data theft, most users opt to keep theirs “off the grid”, commonly jotted down on a piece of paper. And we all know how that story goes.
Unlike paper, DNA is emerging as a highly-promising alternative for safe, offline storage of sensitive data like private keys and passwords. While it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, companies, and top-tier universities have been working on ways of transcoding binary ones and zeros to the biological building blocks that make up synthetic, data-carrying DNA for years. BioSistemika, a parent company of the DATANA project, is a notable example from the EU, focusing on commercializing the technology for widespread use. A successful transformation of private key binary data into a synthetic DNA molecule represents a revolutionary step in this endeavor.
There is no way to recover a stolen or lost private key since there is no strict regulation on cryptocurrency handling and backups. This deters many consumers, particularly those less tech-savvy, from jumping onto the crypto bandwagon. Moreover, it represents a liability for the exchanges and makes crypto investing riskier than regular investing since the investors are responsible for keeping their encryption keys safe. A cryptocurrency exchange cooperating in the project sees a silver lining in DNA as the ultimate backup.
The idea of DNA as a digital data storage medium might sound like fiction; however, DNA has been nature’s storage medium of choice for billions of years. In fact, DNA codes the most important data of all – the code of life. Compared to traditional storage media, DNA’s superior data density, stability, and data integrity are just a few reasons to make the switch. Similarly, stealing and decoding an encryption key from a grain of DNA powder stowed away in the owner’s basement will likely be a tough nut to crack for any hacker.
However, the long-term promise of DNA as a data storage medium lies in the archival storage of extremely large datasets (e.g., national archives, multimedia). It is no secret that the world is running out of digital storage space. Humanity is only capable of storing 50% of the data produced today, a figure that will drop to 20% by 2023. While the DATANA project is already storing smaller datasets in DNA, there is still a long, thorny, as well as promising road ahead to reach the technology’s full potential.