Oct 11 (Reuters) - It's not easy being a crypto investor.
They've seen the value of their holdings drop like a brick this year, and now many are stewing over the safety of their crypto cash after a series of heists that's seen around $2 billion spirited away by hackers.
Enter the ghost of technology's past.
Hardware wallets - old-school physical devices similar to USB drives that stash crypto holdings offline - might seem a throwback to a more innocent digital age, but they're proving to be a popular response to a cutting-edge conundrum.
The global hardware wallet market, valued at $245 million in 2021, is expected to swell to over $1.7 billion by 2030, according to market research firm Straits Research.
It's being fueled by a steady stream of cyber robberies that, according to researcher Chainalysis, has seen thieves steal $1.9 billion in crypto in the first seven months of the year, an increase of 60% from a year earlier. Much of this was stolen directly from blockchains or "hot" online wallets.
It's not only hacks making investors edgy. Others lost access to their crypto when major lenders such as Celsius Network and Voyager Digital collapsed in July.
"We have definitely seen increased interest in hardware wallets, and in general self-custody, post-several issues," said Adam Lowe, chief product and innovation officer at U.S.-based CompoSecure (CMPO.O), one of several hardware wallet makers seeking to capitalize on a rush for safety.
"The day of or day after those events, we would see very significant (sales) lifts."
There's no such thing as a free crypto lunch, though: While hot wallets are convenient and allow for quick trading, hardware wallets typically don't appeal to first-time investors, who often buy cryptocurrencies on big exchanges and might choose to keep their assets on those platforms, where they can simply log in with a username and password.
BLOWING HOT AND COLD
Although hot wallets are usually free and offer quick access to crypto, they can be vulnerable to hacks. In August, nearly 8,000 crypto wallets on the Solana blockchain were hit by hackers who made off with more than $5 million in crypto.
"Users are strongly encouraged to use hardware wallets," Solana said at the time.
France's Ledger, another hardware wallet maker, said it saw a spike in sales after the Solana wallets heist.
"We do see significant uptick in user-based interest in some of these situations of stress in the markets," aid Alex Zinder, global head of Ledger Enterprise.
Most hardware wallets connect to a mobile app, where the owners of the digital keys needed to access their crypto keys can control their funds. Some use "Secure Enclave" technology, a security feature used to store sensitive data.
Josef Tětek, bitcoin analyst at Czech-based hardware wallet company Trezor, says he expects better phone interaction with cold storage wallets in the future, to serve investors in places like South America and Africa, where it's more common for users to have mobile phones than personal computers.
Yet companies in this ballooning market might be advised to make hay while the sun shines.
One long-term question is whether phone makers will want to get in on the action, said Stan Miroshnik, co-founder and partner at 10T Holdings, which led Ledger's $380 million Series C funding round last year.
"One question, I think, for the industry and where it's going and in part what will drive consumer adoption, is what if every iPhone has a built-in Secure Enclave hardware wallet?"
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