Throughout the last few decades, hardware standards have changed rapidly. From VHS tapes to 6-pin PS / 2 ports for computer peripherals, many technologies have become obsolete and have been replaced, which can be a problem when you need to retrieve something valuable stored on them.
Hardware obsolescence is the result of intense technological innovation. This phenomenon does not always have positive effects. For example, let’s say you bought a vinyl record of your favorite pop singer in 1983, but the music was not remade for digital formats. So you have a physical analog copy that wears out over time and requires increasingly difficult hardware to find. This means that at some point in the future, you will have no means to enjoy the content and everything will be lost forever.
The issue here is the reliance on intellectual property holders to redesign and re-release their catalog on new hardware. Millions of VHS vinyl and tapes have never been digitized for our modern era, and it would be illegal to reproduce and distribute the content without the consent of intellectual property owners. While the work of individuals who bring something of value to the digital age is excellent, their unauthorized efforts can be punished by piracy laws. Even organizations focused on protecting our digital legacy face constant legal obstacles associated with their collections.
Hardware obsolescence, along with patents and licenses, is detrimental to our culture and evolution. A lot of information is left in the dust and we may never know what we’re missing out on. We rely too much on corporate curators to decide what should be re-released and what should be forgotten.
This is why, in the corporate world, the relationship between hardware and software is complicated. This is something that open source software fixes. When content is available for free and can be distributed, modified, cloned and stored on millions of devices with no legal repercussions, it is far less likely that the information will ever disappear.
Furthermore, the software will be available on future hardware devices and, if there are compatibility issues, then any coder can create a port or some form of simulation. Trezor is leading this move by focusing on industry-leading software security standards that anyone can use for free. This is one of the best ways to develop science and research in a way that benefits the end user.
Since day one, everything about Trezor hardware wallets has been open source. The software can be downloaded, shared, cloned, modified and stored on every computer in the world without triggering any legal consequences.
The devices themselves are open source to the point that official DIY guidelines exist for the purpose of enabling anyone to build their own hardware wallet. And to accomplish this feat, you can use affordable, common and general-purpose parts that are easy to find and check.
Why is Trezor doing this instead of applying for patents? First of all, this is because the founders believed in the power of open source and they also have backgrounds in Linux development. If anyone can contribute by suggesting improvements and even by launching competitive products, the hardware and software designs are becoming stronger. Everything is tested by a larger number of experts, and this leads to more feedback that only strengthens the security.
Speaking of security, Trezor always believed in offering a product that can prove it is doing what it claims to do. How can anyone trust something that no one can check, except the makers? Would anyone deliberately install a security camera whose feed and live storage can leak data? Would you ensure a lock on your house that no one knows how to repair or break, and could also lock you out too? There is much value in universal standards whose limitations are known and which can be complemented in other ways that do not add unnecessary sophistication.
Now, let’s get back to the issue of hardware obsolescence. What happens if Trezor somehow goes out of business and you can’t buy more hardware wallets? Well, the hardware designs will always be there so you can build your own device.
What happens if the USB ports are just as obsolete as Firewire and PS / 2? To fix the connectivity issue according to the latest technologies, any engineer can modify the external port while retaining the rest of the schematic.
Should the hardware disappear for various reasons, the free open source software will exist as long as the internet is still around and people are willing to host data from their computers. You will never need anyone’s license or permission to use, modify, and share it around.
Trezor’s mix of open source hardware and software eliminates the need for blind trust and fosters security innovation. Just like Bitcoin, the code is completely open, verified by thousands of security experts, and has been the subject of many forks and upgrades. The same spirit of transparency also applies to the hardware, because you can independently verify what each part does.
For a variety of reasons, today’s Trezor hardware wallets can become obsolete in just a few decades – just like VHS tapes or audio cassettes. Hopefully Trezor will still be around to provide easy updates that allow you to switch from the old security standard to the new one. But, even if Trezor somehow ceases to exist, everything is still open source. Someone will always be able to maintain the software to make it compatible with the latest hardware, and the software itself can be implemented on hardware and PCs.
When you do something useful open source and let it spread in the wild, it’s pretty safe to say that it’s unlikely to ever die. The recent youtube-dl software scandal shows how easily controversial code can be immediately saved, in this case by conservators in the Internet Archive, while rights groups defend the legal applications of the software in court.
The wallet seeds and Shamir backups you create with your Trezor device can easily be restored using open source software wallets like Electrum. But it is a bad idea to type the seed words or password on your computer keyboard, as you may be exposed to malware. So owning a Trezor hardware wallet for input and verification purposes is critical for your Bitcoin security settlement.
But what if you can no longer buy a Trezor hardware wallet? It may be due to Trezor shutting down for some reason, or it could be due to trade restrictions that won’t allow us to send you a new hardware wallet.
Let’s say your government becomes authoritarian and bans Bitcoin. By extension, Trezor’s hardware wallets also become illegal. So what if the Trezor you already own happens to break or you have to destroy it during a government raid?
Well, you can still find the parts to build your own Trezor and retrieve your BIP39 or Shamir wallet. The good news is that the electronic components are purpose-built and fairly easy to find. To build your own Model T Trezor, you’ll need a dev board, a STM32F429I micro controller (MCU) unit, a capacitive screen, a bunch of USB and micro SD connectors (which are very common), and the patience to put the all together.
The parts are common and can be used for all types of DIY projects. So when you buy them, you have some credible credibility if your government turns against Bitcoin. You could even order some bespoke misleading parts to suggest that you are working on something else or that you have no idea what you are doing.
After you’ve assembled the parts and built your own Trezor hardware wallet, it’s time to add the most important part: the software. To protect your privacy, you should try to use the Tor browser for all your Bitcoin interactions. So clone or fork our code from GitHub, make sure your connection is secure and ideally store the files in a computer that is not connected to the internet (or an external hard drive that you unplug when your computer offline). The Trezor Suite wallet works natively with Tor so you can hide your connection with one click.
If something happens to SatoshiLabs, there will definitely be open source coders that host the software for the community. So all you would have to do is acquire the parts – the code is distributed and available in plenty of versions to help you create the secure device you need in this age of mandatory protection.
Hardware obsolescence can affect most of your electronic devices, but as a transparency-first security company, Trezor is exempt from the results. The hardware wallets can easily accept upgrades to the latest connection port specifications, and the code will always exist for you to download and build your own device. Thanks to our open source ethos, accessible Bitcoin security is here to stay.