The Opera web browser has built-in support for cryptocurrency – but how does it work, and is it worth the bother?
When you consider safe places to store your cryptocurrency keys, a few things spring to mind: online exchanges with insurance and safety guarantees, mobile wallets protected by a passphrase or biometric security, hardware wallets with the key locked away in a secure enclave, or even paper wallets in a physical safe. “Web browser” doesn’t even make the list, beyond being a method of accessing online wallets, but Opera believes it’s the best place to store and spend your coins.
“Bringing cryptocurrencies and Web 3.0 to the mainstream”
There’s method in Opera’s madness: by integrating a cryptocurrency wallet directly into a web browser, it becomes possible to interact with payment portals and web apps within a single application. Need to pay for a gift card? It’s a single tap away. Want to send your friend a payment request? Why would you need to leave the browser.
Naturally, there are security concerns with this approach – particularly given that the web browser is the most exposed and, therefore, attacked of any application type. Installing the Android version of Opera’s browser, which has the cryptocurrency functionality in its beta release, reveals that some thought has gone into this: any website that requests wallet access triggers a pop-up prompt from the browser itself, much like the prompts you see when a site asks for location or camera access, allowing for one-click approval or denial. Accessing the wallet itself takes place from the Opera menu, but attempting to do anything beyond look at the balance triggers a request for the phone’s lock-screen PIN or passphrase.
Security versus usability
While there are still concerns to be raised about the browser integration approach, in particular the possibility that a successful attack against the browser could potentially provide access to the wallet’s private key, despite Opera’s use of Android’s built-in system lock functionality, it’s hard to deny the usability of Opera’s wallet. After creating or importing a wallet – the latter via the standard twelve-word seed approach, using which you can also back-up a new wallet – the software prompts you to browse a curated selection of decentralised applications (Dapps), ranging from gift card and cryptocurrency exchange services through to collectables like the infamous CryptoKitties project.
It’s here that the wallet shows its flexibility. As well as supporting Ethereum’s ETH itself, the wallet supports ERC20 tokens like FunFair and Tronix plus selected ERC721 collectables including the aforementioned CryptoKitties. When received, these appear in the main wallet screen as secondary balances below the main Ethereum balance. Not everything is supported, however: the current beta release doesn’t include support for Ethereum Classic (ETC), although the presence of a menu toggle for switching to testnets is a welcome surprise, and there’s no sign of planned support for alternative coins like Bitcoin, Litecoin, or Ripple.
More polish needed
There are a few signs that the software is still a little rough around the edges, beyond the most obvious: access to the beta is provided upon request, rather than being included in the mainstream Opera Beta app available on the Google Play Store. One particular issue that may trouble users of landscape format devices like the Planet Computers Gemini PDA is that the user interface has been tailored specifically for portrait mode; rotating the device typically hides UI elements, including cutting off the bottom of a wallet’s QR code until manually scrolled.
Other aspects of the app are considerably more welcoming, though. A particularly nice feature that shows Opera is serious about full integration within the browser is that toggling Night Mode – which switches to a dark background and dims the display via a dark overlay – carries over from the browser into the wallet without any additional changes. There are even choices of icons to associate with a wallet, providing some assurance that a website isn’t trying to trick you with a pop-up access prompt of its own or a malware-driven overlay image.
While the idea of putting your cryptocurrencies into your browser raises security concerns, there’s no denying that Opera’s built-in wallet offers a smooth experience. By the time the software leaves beta, it could even become a go-to wallet – providing there are no security holes found in the meantime. It is also set to be integrated into Opera’s desktop browser, though this isn’t yet available to the public.