A Look Inside The Secret Swiss Bunker Where The Ultra Rich Hide Their Bitcoins

Tyler Durden's picture

Somewhere in the mountains near Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne lies a hidden underground vault containing a vast fortune.

It’s no ordinary vault, according to Quartz. Built inside a decommissioned Swiss military bunker dug into a granite mountain, it’s precise location is a closely guarded secret, and access is limited by myriad security precautions.

But instead of gold bars, the bunker contains hard drives on which customers’ bitcoins are being kept in what’s call “cold storage” – i.e. the owners’ private keys are protected by an air-gapped hard drive. The vault is one of many operated by Xapo, an early bitcoin company known for its cold storage wallet products and a debit card that pays for transactions in digital currencies.

The company won’t disclose how much bitcoin is stored in the vault, but one employee who spoke with Quartz said he sometimes takes customers with millions of dollars in bitcoin on tours of the vaults where their fortune is stored. Xapo was founded by Argentinian entrepreneur and current CEO Wences Casares, whom Quartz describes as “patient zero” of bitcoin among Silicon Valley’s elite. Cesares reportedly gave Bill Gates and Reed Hoffman their first bitcoins.

As Quartz explains, the bitcoin vault doesn’t store actual bitcoin units. Instead, what’s being stored are the owners’ private cryptographic keys that allow the owner to access and transfer his or her bitcoins by matching the key with a public key that’s used to identify the coin on the blockchain. Gaining unauthorized access to someone’s private keys is akin to making off with a gold bar.

The inexorable rise in bitcoin’s valuation has been marred by notable hacking incidents like the collapse of Mt. Gox, which ushered in the longest bear market in bitcoin’s history. Security fears appear to have subsided as bitcoin’s price has soared to all-time highs, but incidents like the collapse of the DAO have inspired investors with substantial bitcoin wealth to look into protecting it.

To store the coins, Xapos contracts Deltalis, the company that technically operates the 10,000-square-foot data-center that now inhabits the decommissioned bunker.

Server racks for banks, and any client who needs secure data processing, fill a cavity dug over 320 meters deep in the granite mountain. The Swiss military built the facility in 1947, and it served as the army’s secret headquarters during the Cold War, Agence-France Presse has reported. Inside, walls covered with detailed maps and ancient radio electronics serve as vestiges of its military past.

To enter Xapo’s private vault in the Deltalis data center, visitors must endure an exhausting series of security procedures.

Streiff leads us to a concrete facade jutting out of the mountainside, the bunker’s entrance. We step through about a foot of concrete and enter the lobby. I sign in as I would at any office building, except I also have to present my fingerprints and be photographed. After that I step through a “man-trap”—a phone booth-sized cylinder made of bullet-proof glass that shuts me in until an operator opens the door on the opposite side.

 

Once through the man-trap, we touch our ID cards and pass through a set of steel revolving doors, then walk down a 100-meter long passageway through the granite. At the end of the passageway are two red steel doors that I’m told can survive a nuclear blast. Streiff invites me to try to close one—my 90 kg (198 pound) frame can’t budge it. “They’re closed every night,” he tells me, showing me how to hang off the handle and use his body’s momentum to gradually swing it shut.

 

Streiff and Kon are taking me to see Xapo’s “private suite,” an ultra-secure, customized, portion of the data center. We pass through a second man-trap and then end up in front of a nondescript white door. “This is further than anyone outside Xapo has been,” Streiff tells me, as he unlocks it. Inside is a space about the size of a walk-in closet containing a cooling unit, and yet another door. But that’s as far as they’ll let me go, and I’m not allowed to take photographs.

Security is similarly tight inside the vault. Nobody is allowed the enter the “cold room” where the bitcoins are stored on air-gapped hard drives. To protect against an electromagnetic pulse attack, the cold room is equipped with a Faraday cage, a type of barrier meant to block electromagnetic fields.

Beyond that door, I rely on what Carlos Rienzi, Xapo’s head of security, tells me later, when I’m back in London. Rienzi chose the vault for Xapo, and he designed the private suite and its security protocols. His “threat model,” as computer security jargon goes, is to protect against attacks from “well-funded terrorist groups or hackers.”

 

There are two more portals inside the suite: the first leads to an operators’ room, and the second to a “cold room.” The cold room is encircled with steel slabs to form a Faraday cage: a barrier that protects against a possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could wipe out the data—and thus the keys to the bitcoin—stored in the room. For digital assets like bitcoin, thick walls and a secret location are not enough. A shield against invisible modes of attack like an EMP bomb must be provided for.

 

No one, not even the operator, enters the cold room. Its door is sealed with tape—like a crime scene—to ensure it’s not tampered with. The cold room contains hardware, which is never connected to the internet, used to sign bitcoin transactions. Signing a transaction can be performed offline. The operator accesses that hardware using “special cabling,” sending encrypted data to the hardware for signing. Finally, before a transaction can be approved, two more sign-offs, in two other vaults located on separate continents, must be performed.

 

I ask Rienzi if he feels pretty confident about the security measures he has in place in Switzerland. “We are under attack 24/7,” he tells me, referring to the terrorists and hackers he designed the vault to guard against. “This is not a race. It is a chess game. You have to think about the opponent’s next movement. You can never relax.”

Of course, all the security measures in the world can’t protect investors from a sudden plunge in the bitcoin price. However, the digital currency’s indomitable - for now - performance has silenced at least one of its most prominent critics. Then said, unlike precious metal specie, one carefully targeted EMP would be all it takes to sever the ownership chain for a long, long time.

Still, with the digital currency recently reaching yet another record high, despite relentless jawboning and rhetoric by everyone from Jamie Dimon to central bankers to China, we can only imagine the business of protecting bitcoin fortunes is set to boom.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Clock Crasher's picture

Goldmoney is also vaulting Crypto and collecting fees.

Their stock has been exploding.  All Time highs this week. 

If bitcoin is going to 100,000 then goldmoney stock is going to 10 bag minimum.

Clock Crasher's picture

If gold goes to 10,000 ontop of a sustained bitcoin explosion then goldmoney should 100bag.  she has never seen a day trade over a million shares and shes +100% off the lows.  Just saying.

Automatic Choke's picture

When I first saw the article, I thought it said "BACON storage facility".  

Whew, I thought they were talking about something really valuable.   False alarm.

 

bamawatson's picture

BACONcoin goes well with WHOPPERcoin

overbet's picture

Awfully tight security to protect something the btc bashers on here claim to be worthless. 

Mr_Potatohead's picture

Yeah, but the security at Fort Knox is even greater for something that many claim is equally worthless and not there.

wee-weed up's picture

Ha! Both they and their Bitcoins will end up dead comes the EMP.

Gaius Frakkin' Baltar's picture

Why?

This completely misses the point.

Encrypt and cache copies everywhere.

King of Ruperts Land's picture

How do you secure the key to the encrypted copies?

TruxtonSpangler's picture

"To protect against an electromagnetic pulse attack, the cold room is equipped with a Faraday cage, a type of barrier meant to block electromagnetic fields."

 

If there was an EMP, would BitCoin be worthless?

Lockesmith's picture

Anyone who "stores" their crypto in a literal physcial vault does not understand crypto and is likely a moron. That Gates is a customer of these hucksters explains to me why Microsoft products are such steaming piles of shit.

mtl4's picture

This is about the most rediculous I've seen yet........isn't the entire value of bitcoin to be accessible and fungible anywhere?

If the real SHTF am I gonna trade my crops for a bunch of 1's and 0's? Lol, try it and see what happens.

Buckaroo Banzai's picture

"This is about the most rediculous I've seen yet........isn't the entire value of bitcoin to be accessible and fungible anywhere?"

First, you need to understand that the author of this piece is, like most reporters, a fucking ignoramus who gets most of the important details wrong.

The BitCoin blockchain is so highly distributed across the internet, that it can be approximated to being literally everywhere. The fact that the blockchain is literally everywhere on the planet at once, means that the blockchain is immune to EMP attacks, or really any attack short of the total annihilation of the planet. However, the private cryptographic keys that control individual BitCoins are NOT highly distributed-- in fact, by definition, they must be unique, and they must be kept secure, because anybody who possesses a particular private key controls the BitCoins associated with that private key. If you lose that private key, or someone steals it, you lose the associated BitCoins forever. And that is the express purpose of this digital vault-- to keep private keys safe and secure.

Agent P's picture

First we started storing physical asset values in intangible ETFs, and now we're storing intangible assets in physical security bunkers...the world has gone batshit crazy! 

Bollockinell's picture

I don't think that "worthless" is the correct adjective to use. It would certainly be inaccessible but then so would your bank account, cash registers, gas pumps, etc. An EMP attack would have almost the same consequences on life as a nuclear attack but would not destroy the planet. Yep, man has successfully invented an eco-friendly method for committing genocide.

IMHO, all these people claiming that Bitcoin isn't worth purchasing because it could be worthless in the event of an EMP attack or electrical grid failure don't really have a clue what they are talking about. They are of course correct but they fail to realize what all the other consequences would be.

If they really believe that Bitcoin is a bad buy because of the potential for an EMP or electrical grid attack, then why buy a computer, invest in electric cars, or for that matter anything that connects to an electric socket?

Here's a thought for you all...
Instead of asking the question "What if there's an EMP attack?" try asking "What if there is no EMP attack?" Given the digital world we live in today, the latter is the only way to go otherwise we may as well all slash our wrists today.

TruthHammer's picture

"If there was an EMP, would BitCoin be worthless?"

They will be worthless if and when they are made illegal to transact in by the world's governments.

But, they have a long long way to go before they are economically significant enough to be snuffed out.  Just having a high valuation doesnt make them economically significant...

divingengineer's picture

So wrap your thumb drive in aluminum foil.

Implied Violins's picture

Shit. I wrapped my thumb, and drove. Will that work?

sessinpo's picture

If you read the article, you might have noticed the words faraday cage.

Go smoke another bowl so you won't wake up to the reality that generally the serfs are the cannon fodder that die while the wealthy either have the best protection or they simply move to greener pastures.

Huh Reeeally's picture

Don't need to be wealthy to own a Faraday Cage, we all have one, it's called a microwave oven. A Faraday cage is merely a metal or metallic box or pouch lined with a non-conducting material where electronic devices of all sorts are protected from EMP, Cell, GPS, Internet, WiFi, RFID, and NFC. Silent-Pocket.com has some excellent Faraday Cage products and anti-radiation phone cases which I sell in Canada on saferRFID.ca

Apologies for the shameless self-promotion but there are serious risks of personal Data and Identity Theft, Tracking and Radiation poisoning which, like Bitcoin, are misunderstood. Jus' sayin' :-)

sleigher's picture

Metal garbage can + good ground = faraday cage.

 

buttmint's picture

...my entire house is a farady cage. Do I win a prize or sumting?

zerocash's picture

As would be 90% of the population. And the remaining 10% would be living like in the middle ages.

chuckymcgee's picture

Not true. Optical media is EMP esistant, as will any paper or metal etched with  bitcoin private keys. A military style dog tag could protect a fortune in Bitcoin.

espirit's picture

Hey, who welded the doors shut?

TuPhat's picture

That's exactly why it's worthless.

overbet's picture

Your definition of worthless is somthing that I can hit a bid on right now for $4600?

SilverSavant's picture

Speaking of Whopper, it is no secret about the Sonnenberg buried city built for 20-30,000 people.  These days you can tour parts of it.

HelluvaEngineer's picture

This shit is going to turn out to be the phoenix 2017 or whatever the hell it was currency from the Economist or whateveritwas magazine.  The "chosen" are front running BC being the new chosen means of enslaving the populace.  Wait for it...

You front-runners will be digital billionaires and you'll also have a damn RFID implanted in your head.

Ranger4564's picture

1. You can't just be rich because you want to be rich, you have to rape or kill someone to be allowed to be rich.

2. You really think the banks are that stupid that they will allow the average slob become one of them? No. The point of this BTC / ETH rise is to convince the populace of the legitimacy of virtual / digital / non-existent currencies. Once society is well trained, the banks will kill off the BTC / ETH and introduce their nightmare.

HelluvaEngineer's picture

I agree with you.  I wasn't trying to make two logical jumps because it wouldn't have been well received.

GodSpeed_00's picture

That's pretty silly, why would they need to make Bitcoin to "convince the populace of the legitimacy of virtual / digital / non-existent currencies" when the money people use today is already digital and non existent? I punch in a bunch of numbers on Amazon and I order whatever I want. I transfer money between bank accounts by logging in online and entering numbers. I swipe a plastic card and buy food with digital nonsense. It's already here, Bitcoin was not needed to convince people.

Huh Reeeally's picture

when the money people use today is already digital and non existent

The money does exist, you can withdraw fiat currency and spend that any way you like. Digital currency does not have that level of privacy since a government makes it, taxes, regulates, applies service charges and track every payment or receipt  or even give you a zero balance if they don't like you. Cash creates some discretionary spending freedom.

Crypto currencies don't have the same government interference so are perhaps safer than any digital national currency, and they're obviously becoming broadly accepted worldwide.

It's an evolving story, and a battle that governments can't afford to lose, if they don't control the money they don't control us. Pretty simple really.

Lockesmith's picture

How?

Could they "kill off" gold and silver?

If they can so aptly control human behaviour, then what power do they not possess? What is the point in resisting such a foe?

 

I think you do not understand fundamental economics.

Bunga Bunga's picture

Right, we were chosen by the "system" to become the new elites. But the world we be a much better place, because the wealth of the rich wich is the debt of the poor will be wiped out. The same process starts again but it happens only every several hundred years.

GodSpeed_00's picture

Why would it be Bitcoin...so many reason why that makes no sense.

marysimmons's picture

PM's and BTC could both go to the moon with dramatic devaluation of fiat currencies which is happening worldwide now.  The difference is that more PM's can always be mined (for the right price), whereas there will never, EVER, be more than 22 Mil BTC.  So in a few years, when a billion people or so are trying to turn their fiat into BTC, and other non-inflationary digital currencies, and bidding up the price if for no other reason than to preserve their wealth, a 6, 7, 8, or even 9 figure price of BTC in $USD is not out of the question.  This possibility (probability) alone makes it worth the risk of picking up a BTC, or even 0.5 BTC now.

Scuba Steve's picture

Fiat is worthless but men and machinery will be digging deep, deep holes for PM's AND the power will still be on for BitC pay ?

got it.

Freddie's picture

Ha ha.   No way I walking into a cave / coal mine.  What is even funnier is banner ads on ZH offering jobs at the 17 inteligence agencies for Uncle Scam!   What a joke!  

https://www.intelligencecareers.gov/?gclid=CJj0ouay-9YCFUhZhgodWZIGrQ

This includes the NGA or National Geospatial Intelligence Agency which is one of the more secret ones.  I bet they have staff not that far from me too.

Sorry Uncle Scam.  I do not want to go kill Christian (or non Christian) civilians in Syria or Iraq for the banksters.

I wonder if they are hiring for psycho Jason Bourne like gigs?

inhibi's picture

HAHAHAHA Comment of the day!

jsgibson's picture

Show a kid a vault full of gold and another with a bitcoin wallet and ask which one they would rather have.  Any kid even with a nomimal amount of public school brainwashing would pick the shiny stuff.  Is there a better modern day example of the emporer's new clothes than crypto?

CatsPaw's picture

ten points for Automatic Choke.

HRClinton's picture

Fork these "Storage" facilites!  Be it for Gold or Crypto.

Another RENT-SEEKING biz model.  Fork that!

Keep it in cold storage at home or at a quality Storage Facility, where you keep all your other important (2nd Amendment) stuff.

 

espirit's picture

So you didn't qualify as a patron, did you?

overbet's picture

I use a trezor. Just keep your backup keys is a fire safe at a couple locations and youre good to go.