AsicVault/AsicFuel ICO: the scam goes orbital

This is a story of an interesting scam campaign which has been running for a year now and most people have probably not heard of. I decided to write about it to warn others about the obvious red flags associated with it.

Prelude

Sometime last December while browsing CoinTelegraph, I stumbled upon an ad for “The Most Advanced Crypto Hardware Wallet”. Opening the link forwarded me to a paid article on CoinTelegraph:

As I read through the article, I noticed a ton of buzzwords that are supposed to give the reader a sense of superiority of this wallet over the others (PUF, FIPS 140–2 highest Level 4, two isolated RISC-V processors, etc.) and just seemed unnecessarily thrown into the mix. Having education as a software engineer and good understanding of hardware design and protocols, I understood that this device was supposed to be based on an ASIC (custom tailored) chip and act both as a hardware wallet and an external cryptographic accelerator for encrypting and decrypting data on the fly on your computer hard drive. This seemed a bit too ambitious for the budget they were planning to get only by selling preorders, which we’ll talk about in a minute.

The oldest snapshot of their website (https://asicvault.io/) is from October 16th 2017. and contains rather high quality rendered graphics of the device

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20171106232311/https://asicvault.io/

On the website, they claim the device has even more functions:

Full node seems interesting, doesn’t it?

Let’s set aside the fact that it doesn’t explain what is the difference between “AsicVault Apps”, “Cryptocurrency Vault” and “Secure Storage”, and focus on the “Full Node”. Running a full node means having a copy of the blockchain of that specific cryptocurrency which contains the states of each address that has received payments on the network since the first mined block. As of the day of writing this article, the BTC blockchain is almost 200GB in size. Meanwhile, they claim:

https://web.archive.org/web/20171106232311/https://asicvault.io/

Even our flagship smartphones today mostly have a maximum of 128GB of internal flash memory. Keep in mind that the blockchain will continue growing each day and that you are (supposedly?) able to run full nodes for each cryptocurrency they support in the wallet (for example, Ethereum’s blockchain is 667GB as of today), thus having to store each blockchain and re-sync them periodically (WiFi or 4G support is not mentioned anywhere, so this is another interesting question).

There are many other outrageous claims that I won’t debate each one to keep the article short, but the main point is that developing an ASIC chip with all of those functions would cost a ton of money (we’re talking about more than 1 million USD) and a handful of skillful hardware design engineers.

The campaign starts

The campaign has started with a free giveaway to whoever signed up for the newsletter:

https://web.archive.org/web/20171106232311/https://asicvault.io/

On Christmas day, they announce the winners:

https://twitter.com/AsicVault/status/945433252504002560

Listing people’s first names only makes no sense, I understand not listing last names for privacy reasons, but simply writing that the winners have been selected should have been enough, since it’s impossible to verify that anyone has ever received an unit. Notice that in April, someone asks if the winners have been selected and there has never been anyone coming forward with proof that they received anything from AsicVault.

In January, preorders are opened and each unit is being sold for 200€ from what I remember (unfortunately, I can’t seem to find snapshots from that preorder period), but they initially claimed that Q2 2018 would be the timeframe to ship the first batch of preorders. At the same time, they provided a photo of the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) of the device:

Notice the crispness of the AsicVault logo compared to other chip markings

As someone who has soldered a ton of SMT components, I found the crispness of the AsicVault logo very fascinating. Compare it to the marking on the chip above it. It seems as if though the logo was photoshopped over whatever marking there was on the chip originally. By the way, the production cost of the PCB itself is rather low today and producing a dummy PCB which has almost no real functionality has been done before, take a look at the “Dwarf FPGA Miner” for Monero which turned out to be a scam:

The scammers have since pulled of all the initial high-resolution photos of the Dwarf miner PCB.

The AsicVault device is never seen actually performing any useful task described on the beginning of this article. It usually just displays the company logo animation and that’s it. Even in the newest video update, it just does random characters shuffling which proves nothing:

Silence of the lambs

At the beginning of the year 2018, AsicVault posted a few static photographs of the device displaying the company logo and were apparently present at one crypto conference in Estonia (which is where they are apparently from).

The first batch was apparently sold out and they were already accepting payments for the next batch (now apparently scheduled for delivery in Q3 2018). In fact, if you visit their website right now, you’ll still find the Q3 stock for sale, they didn’t even bother to update it!

https://web.archive.org/web/20181117004758/https://asicvault.io/preorder/

Then came the period of silence. According to their social media accounts, March was the last time they posted anything before abruptly disappearing.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bggla02nKaY/

Meanwhile, angry buyers were starting to ask questions that no one answered:

https://twitter.com/AsicVault/status/948327054264684544
https://twitter.com/AsicVault/status/1060502195324375040

AsicFuel ICO: the scam moves to outer orbit

During the summer I have checked their social media accounts, but nothing has appeared and I just concluded that they have abandoned the project for good and ran with buyers’ money.

Fast forward to today, I decide to take a look again, just in case something has appeared, and, lo and behold, the team is now hosting an ICO called AsicFuel (AVF)! I was excited to take a look at the roadmap, and what I found was nothing short of the purest comedy gold, so let’s take a look!

https://web.archive.org/web/20181117012823/https://ico.asicvault.io/

Now, hold on, it’s full of unrelated crypto buzzwords again? Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), Atomic Swaps, high frequency trading, Decentralized Exchange (DEX)…they’re all present! It’s hard to even try to understand what they’re pretending to be building now. A remote data center with their crypto ASICs storing the private keys which are then securely communicated to the ASIC chip inside your hardware wallet?

Oh, wait, there is an explanation:

https://web.archive.org/web/20181117012823/https://ico.asicvault.io/

Still doesn’t make any sense. They claim you’ll have an app on your smartphone that will connect directly to the ASIC chip that they host somewhere. How is this possible at all? How do you know they wouldn’t be storing your private keys as plaintext on their servers. Even if they managed to securely transport them from their server to your smartphone app, it would still be downgraded to smartphone app execution security level (with problems such as breaking the app sandbox)…this is exactly why hardware wallets were invented in the first place, to bypass the problem of transporting keys in environments where they can be exposed and stolen!

ICO details, now hoping to get 2 million euros

There are tons of other nonsense written on the website which I’ll leave you to explore freely if you wish. Anyway, it’s nice to know they’re now hoping to have 2 million euros collected through this ICO.

Actually, there’s one more thing before we move on.

The scam is in the orbit!

Yes…I know it might be hard to believe. A company that hasn’t been able to produce nor ship their product to anyone is already planning to launch their own satellite in 2022. Maybe the AsicVault team will board the satellite to evade jail time, that actually makes some sense I guess?!

More red flags

Now, let’s step back from all the technobabble nonsense, unrealistic promises and never ending delays. Let’s take a look at the company and the (main?) actor behind it.

If you google the company name, you’ll be presented with a typical company summary and reviews.

Seems to have a lot of reviews and an overall good grade, but upon browsing the comments, you’ll notice two types of comments, ones praising the great magnificent product and others pointing out to these fake reviews.

Keep in mind, these are reviews even from 4 months ago claiming that the product is great and they’re extremely satisfied with it, yet no one of the buyers has received the product yet, no one! Another fishy thing is that the members of the team themselves write positive Google reviews about the company.

https://web.archive.org/web/20181117012823/https://ico.asicvault.io/

So the team member writes a review about how he visited the company’s office space and saw open-case computers and 8k monitors? Seems like a completely legit review, doesn’t it?

If you compare the company registration information with the website, you’ll see that the location of the company has changed on the website, perhaps too many reviews claimed there was no one at the address where it’s originally registered to?

“Original” registered address of the company

Another interesting thing is that the company doesn’t have and never had any employees:

https://www.teatmik.ee/en/personlegal/14144085-Asicvault-O%C3%9C

Using the same site, we can find that the CEO (Hando Eilsen) owns another company, Photon Reality OÜ. In fact, AsicVault’s email address in the business registry is still registered as:

https://www.teatmik.ee/en/personlegal/14144085-Asicvault-O%C3%9C

Photon Reality OÜ has the same physical address that was originally used for AsicVault.

https://www.teatmik.ee/en/personlegal/12771323-Photon-Reality-O%C3%9C

Okay..but what does Photon Reality OÜ actually do?

https://www.facebook.com/pg/PhotonReality/about/?ref=page_internal

So, it’s supposed to be the producer of the world’s fastest photo-realistic 3D rendering software? Well, that seems a bit unrealistic again, doesn’t it?

The website (http://photonreality.com/) is pretty dead as of today, it only returns an empty page. But, if we take a look at the archived snapshots, we can see that the site is actually rather old, first snapshot was taken back on February 7th 2011!

https://web.archive.org/web/20110207094703/http://photonreality.com/

So again, we have pretty images, lots of buzzwords and nothing seems to ever have been delivered, I believe you can clearly see a pattern here.

However, Photon Reality’s YouTube profile is used to provide likes and subscription for the newest AsicVault video and channel:

Finally, there’s another interesting clue in the AsicFuel ICO whitepaper:

https://web.archive.org/web/20181117015001/https://ico.asicvault.io/AsicVault_whitepaper_NC_0410.pdf

On the last page is what seems to be the newest address related to this company. However, just googling this address reveals that ton of ICOs were registered here previously. It’s most likely an address of a registered agent company which allows you to open a company there remotely and never have an actual office there.

Conclusion

Having spent quite some time watching how the situation evolves around AsicVault, I’m now more confident than ever that this is a blatant scam, and most likely not the first one to be conducted by people behind it.

https://web.archive.org/web/20181117123605/https://bitcointalk.org/index.php?topic=4800954.msg43306317

There seem to be people pointing out to this in posts I’ve seen while researching the company. They do seem to have a point, like referring to “internet casinos” (Photon Reality OÜ software seen above?). Also, the post mentions “1000 times better schemes” and this is exactly in line with what we’ve seen. All of the products the AsicVault/Photon Reality develop lack any real proof of their operation and effectiveness, the only talking points you’ll find are unsupported facts about the superiority of the product above anything else currently on the market, combined with tons of loosely based buzzwords which are there to impress less tech-educated investors.

All in all, I’d recommend you stay away from AsicVault, AsicFuel ICO and any other company run by these people if you don’t wish to end up with your money being locked in their vaults.

Thank you for taking time to read through this and if you found the article informative, please share it with your friends.