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People

Alena Vranova on The Block: Meet the self-proclaimed workaholic hell-bent on crypto security

Quick Take

  • The Block sat down with crypto security stalwart, Alena Vranova – Casa’s head of Strategy
  • The Bitcoin enthusiast explains why we need to get clued up on all aspects of digital security
  • Alena says the bear market has not dampened demand for Casa’s services and that 2019 forecasts look promising

It was in a drowsy Prague university library in 2010 that Alena Vranova first discovered the world of crypto. She had taken on the task of dissecting the international monetary system, a research effort spurred by her time working in financial services.

“I kind of realized that having one international money issued by Fed is not the optimal solution, and neither is the euro because I already saw that as a failing project. So I found out about Bitcoin,” she said.

Far away from the confines of university, she is now Head of Strategy at Casa, one of largest and most prolific crypto security companies, known for attracting clients with $500,000-plus in bitcoin or ether. She works alongside former bankers, asset managers, and even the designer of Tinder’s “Superlike” function, Scott Hurff – Casa’s “no coiner” head of design, focused on building a user-friendly interface.

Given she entered the space almost a decade ago, Czech-born Vranova’s crypto journey is almost as old as bitcoin itself. But the last nine years have done little to dampen the initial enthusiasm that she held as a student.

“I still believe Bitcoin is the best, the most secure global ledger and the best form of money that we’ve seen for a long time…It has some downsides, but I mean people are working like crazy.”

Vranova identifies as one of those non-stop workaholics. After discovering bitcoin, she wasted little time in leaving banking to set up renowned crypto hard wallet company Trezor before making the “natural” transition to Casa in 2018. “The first time I met with Jeremy [Welch, the CEO of CASA], we spent some time talking about our futuristic visions and what needs to be done and what I always wanted to build. So we could compare notes pretty much,” she said.

Fragile at best: the current state of crypto security

Casa shares not only Alena’s long-term vision for bitcoin, but also her fixation on boosting crypto security. The safeguarding infrastructure is still pretty rudimentary, and navigating it can feel like “mission impossible,” with crypto users facing multiple layers of insecurity – including third-party risk (exchange failures), physical risks (hackers and viruses), and human error.

In securing your crypto you have simply 2 choices. Either you are completely on your own, so you have your hardware wallet, you have your paper backups, you know you need to figure out where to save the backups…or you can give away your wealth [and data] to the sovereign services and crypto banks, and there’s nothing in between.”

Casa, she said, is “bridging this self-sovereignty with the user experience of an online app or bank,” providing offline hardware wallets. Casa’s premium clients pay no less than $10,000 a year for what Alena calls “the best personal key manager on this planet” – offering three or five multi-signature keys. These are held in multiple locations; one in a security deposit box at home, one at work or with a trusted family member; another (for disaster recovery) held by Casa; and another on your mobile app. This means that even if somebody kidnaps or physically extorts an individual at gunpoint, they will not be able to move funds without access to at least three keys.

“[This kind of physical attack] is really happening…It’s a lot. It’s not one or two or three cases. It’s growing,” she said.

She is particularly skeptical of storing funds in “centralized services such as Coinbase,” fearing that they are putting not just users’ crypto funds at risk but also their identities.

“Now, I don’t hate Coinbase, I actually like Coinbase and all these institutions because they are onboarding and bringing a lot of new customers right? But at the same time I have an issue with them because they are doing KYC right? That’s collecting your ID, your addresses, all this personal data. So imagine…someone steals the database of [Twenty-five million] Coinbase customers.”

Still, data breaches aren’t unique to the crypto world, with major airlines, banks and retailers among the noteworthy recent victims.

Bear market demand & next steps

Despite Bitcoin’s price plummet since November, Vranova says Casa hasn’t seen a “huge drop” in uptake and that sales have been “really great.” 

“Obviously some of them say, maybe I don’t have enough now to justify the ten thousand [dollars] now but they’re still interested [in fund security] because they are aware that this is a very short term situation…They are usually people betting on the future of Bitcoin and Ether,” she said. The company would not disclose its number of clients or the relative number since the bear market began. 

Pascal Gauthier, President of hardware maker Ledger, seemed to agree, saying in December that ‘crypto wallet sales’ for his firm were going strong despite bitcoin’s price.

Elsewhere, Vranova said demand had been “overwhelming” for the $300 Casa nodes, which allows users safe access to the Lightning Network for instant bitcoin transactions. She predicts the nodes “will be running a substantial amount of the network,” in future, with the company announcing last week they were launching a browser extension for Google Chrome and Firefox to enable easier interaction with the nodes.

Still, she said that when the price goes up, users invest more in security – coinciding with increasing numbers of attacks, hacks, and viruses.

“People go ‘oh my god, oh my god, my money now is much more valuable, I need to do something about it’ so that’s when they go and buy more hardware wallets.”

Casa now seems focused on expanding its services outside crypto, providing holistic data-protection. Indeed, Casa’s wallet services double up as a general purpose encryption device.

“We have a potential to have a nice spillover effect to how we secure our documents how we secure our identities and so on…We have a lot of digital wealth we don’t secure”, she said. She warns for instance against putting private documents on clouds like Dropbox or Google without encryption.

“It’s like going naked on the street,” she said, laughing.

So, her message is clear: the security of digital security and digital assets is not to be taken lightly.

“We will see this coming back and picking or slapping us in the face again and again.”