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In this post we are going to cover:

  • Differences between Ledger Nano S and Ledger Nano X
  • What Legder Nano S box contains
  • How to set up multi-signature
  • Legder-Live Software

Plus more... Read on to learn everything you need to know about Ledger Nano S.

Curious about the Ledger Nano S?

Wondering if its all its cracked up to be?

Does it actually keep your coins safe?

The Ledger Nano S is likely the most widely owned and well-known hardware wallet on the market. There is a good reason for that.

Ledger has done a lot of marketing around their “secure element” and has raised more VC money than any of their competitors have.

In this Nano S review, we put the device to the ultimate test to see if the marketing meets reality.

Pros

  • One of the most trusted hardware wallets
  • User friendly
  • Device must be connected for all operations
  • Multi-signature Support
  • Device times out after a period of inactivity
  • Passphrase support
  • Ongoing development from Ledger

Cons

  • Low resolution screen
  • Limited app capacity
  • Closed Source

Pros

Cons

  • One of the most trusted hardware wallets
  • Low resolution screen
  • User friendly
  • Limited app capacity
  • Device must be connected for all operations
  • Closed Source
  • Multi-signature Support
  • Device times out after a period of inactivity
  • Passphrase support
  • Ongoing development from Ledger


Who Should Buy a Ledger Nano S?

  • Crypto investors who want a wallet to use with their multisig
  • Crypto investors who only own a few coins
  • Crypto investors who want an inexpensive wallet

Why Do I Need a Hardware Wallet?

Bitcoin cryptocurrency digital wallet

Hardware wallets allow you to store coins in what is called ‘cold storage’.

Cold storage is the method by which private keys or other information is kept away from any contact with the internet, where security is easily compromised.

Methods of cold storing Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (such as paper wallets) have evolved over time.

Info: Hardware wallets are one of the newest iterations and generally considered to be a good method for all users.

They are easily accessible and are a good balance of security and functionality.

Basics of Ledger Nano S

The Ledger Nano S was first introduced in 2016 and is a multi-currency hardware devices.

Screenshot of ledger.com
Ledger nano S Capacity

It supports over 1,150 cryptocurrencies. It is designed to harness the security, flexibility and easy backup of the Hierarchical Deterministic(HD) Wallet structure.

The Nano S provides cold storage by creating and storing your wallet’s private keys offline. It can also be integrated with third-party wallets to manage ERC-20 tokens.

Info:The price of the Ledger Nano S has dropped by about half since it was first released and currently retails for $59 USD making it the most affordable hardware wallet available.

The Ledger Nano X has since been introduced as a successor and holds a higher position in the Ledger product line by offering more features (more on the X below).

Ledger’s Background

Launched in 2014, Ledger is a global company specializing in secure blockchain applications and devices. The company boasts sales of 1.5 million wallets in 165 countries to date.

Ledger's Office in Paris, France

Ledger has demonstrated a high degree of engagement with the community at large by providing abundant support and addressing specific issues and risks. High-quality information has been forthcoming in regard to their firmware updates. We’ve even written about some of the more common firmware update issues here and here.

Price

Screenshot of Ledger Nano S
Ledger Nano S

Of all the big three hardware wallet companies (Trezor, Ledger, and Keepkey), Ledger offers the most popular and inexpensive hardware wallet on the market at only $59.

This includes free shipping to most countries as well.

See how the Nano S stacks up against other competing hardware wallets

COMPARISON

Ledger Nano X

Ledger Nano X

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2019
  • PRICE: $119
  • BLUETOOTH:
Ledger Nano S

Ledger Nano S

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2016
  • PRICE: $59
Trezor Model T

Trezor Model T

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2018
  • PRICE: $159
  • TOUCH SCREEN:
Trezor One

Trezor One

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2013
  • PRICE: $59

How Is It Different Than the Nano X?

nano x pairing with phone

The Ledger Nano X is very similar to the Nano S except for a few minor differences.

  • Ledger Nano X supports bluetooth connectivity
  • Nano Xhard drive can hold up to 100 apps
  • Nano X chassis is a sturdier build quality

As you can see, the Nano X boasts a much larger hard drive than the tiny 5 app storage capacity on the Nano S.

It’s also much stronger and heavier, and allows bluetooth connectivity.

Ledger Nano X


Ledger Nano X
Price$119
CapacityUp to 100 apps
Ledger Livedesktop | mobile (Android & iOS)
BluetoothYes
Screen128 x 64 pixels
ConnectorUSB Type-C
Battery8 hours in standby mode
Size72x18.6x11.75 mm
Weight34g

Ledger Nano S


Ledger Nano S
Price$59
Capacity3 to 20 apps
Ledger Livedesktop | mobile (Android only)
Bluetooth-
Screen128 x 32 pixels
ConnectorUSB Type Micro-B
Battery-
Size57 x 17.4 x 9.1 mm
Weight16.2g

This means that you can send and receive transactions while out and about by pairing the Nano X to your Mobile phone and managing the device via the Ledger Live mobile app.

However, some view the bluetooth capabilities as an added vulnerability, as bluetooth is seen more and more as a security loophole than an advantage.

Screenshot of ledger.com
Ledger.com - Hardware Wallets Comparison

It’s up to you to decide if the added convenience of bluetooth is worth the trade off of potentially less security, though Ledger claims this is not a tradeoff at all.

Unboxing and Presentation

With the high degree of risk present in managing digital assets, due diligence of a hardware wallet begins with opening the package.

As of 2019, the Ledger Nano S branding is clearly visible on the outside of the box and is shrink-wrapped in plastic.

nano s packaging
nano s packaging 2

Previously, the upper and lower sections of the box were sealed with a tamper-proof sticker. This is no longer the case.

Instead there is now a reassuring card inside which indicates why.

Regardless, never buy any hardware wallet device from anyone other than the manufacturer or an official reseller.

nano s notice

The box contains:

  • Ledger Nano S
  • USB Cable
  • Lanyard
  • Keychain
  • Backup and Info Cards

The box is nicely made and worth keeping for easy storage.

nano s in package
nano s package contents

In addition to the clarification about the security seal, three cards for your seed word backup are provided along with instructions to continue on to Ledger’s website to begin setup.

nano s package documentation

Device Description

The Nano S features two hardware buttons used to navigate the simple on screen user interface and confirm or cancel transaction signing.

Navigating Ledger Dashboard
Navigating Ledger Nano S Application Dashboard

The chassis is a textured black plastic finish that feels fairly sturdy, though i wouldn’t recommend sitting on it or exposing it to high heat.

Security

The security features of the Ledger are unique in the industry.

CC EAL5+ Secure Element

The Ledger family of hardware wallets are the only fully-certified hardware wallets on the market certified by ANSSI, the French cybersecurity agency.

Both the Nano S and Nano X feature what is known as a ‘secure element’.

inside nano s

Specifically, the secure chip used is a ST31H320 with a CC EAL5+ certification. It is the black medium sized chip in the top left of the device above.

According to Ledger:

Ledger Wallet Logo

A Secure Element is a secure chip that...embeds intrinsic countermeasures against many known attacks. This kind of chip is tamper-resistant and protects your device to a range of different attacks.


The secure chip is what differentiates the Ledger from other hardware wallets on the market in terms of key storage.

PIN Code

When you first initialize your Ledger, you’ll be prompted to set up a 4 to 8 digit PIN code.

Advice: Remember that you yourself are responsible for creating a strong PIN. Use all 8 characters!

This PIN is what lets you open the device and use it; similar to your bank account PIN. It is very important, but also be aware that it is not needed to restore a wallet from the seed words.

nano s pin code

It’s just a simple password to make sure that if you lose your device, your coins can’t be easily stolen.

Info: If someone attempts to enter a PIN more than 4 times, the Nano S erases itself and the thief is left with nothing.

This prevents attackers from trying to brute force your PIN and gain access to your coins.

Backup via BIP39 Recovery Seeds

The Ledger Nano S allows you to backup your hardware wallet using a standard known as BIP39, in short, your private key is converted into an easily readable series of 24 words.

If you ever lose your wallet or it gets destroyed or stolen (or you forget your PIN), you will input this series of words into another wallet (hardware or softeware) and get your coins back.

Ledger provides a couple of pieces of paper to write down this series of words during device setup.

nano s recovery sheet

However, backing up your Ledger in this way is not very safe. If the location of this piece of paper ever got flooded or caught on fire, you’d be out of luck.

This is why many people choose to use a device called a Billfodl to store this series of words on pieces of stainless steel, impervious to fire and flood.

billfodl seed here

One Billfodl customer had over $1,000,000 of Bitcoin backed up on a notebook in a fireproof safe, but when his garage flooded with 6 feet of rain, the safe became water-logged, and he lost everything.

Don’t let this happen to you! Keep your backup safe with something sturdier than paper.

Passphrase Support

Ledger Nano S now supports passphrase (aka 25th word protection).

Info:This security measure allows the user to add an additional word to their 24 word recovery phrase.

Why would you do this? There are a couple of reasons:

1. You want to add extra security to your recovery phrase in case someone finds your 24 words.

Warning: Remember - anyone with your 24 words can recover your coins and take them. Adding another word of your choosing means they will need to know the word you chose as well as the 24 words.

2. You want to create a “dummy account” in your device that holds a small amount of coins. This protects you from what is called a “$5 Wrench Attack”.

How a $5 wrench attack works

$5 wrench attack comic

If you are ever the victim of such an attack and you have a passphrase set up, you have plausible deniability about your larger account of coins.

You only tell the muggers about your small account and hope they leave with very few of your coins.

We have created a video about how to set up passphrase on a Ledger Nano S, posted below:

Multi-signature Support

Some advanced crypto investors use more than one hardware wallet to sign transactions.

This protects the investor because it means that even if someone gains access to one of your hardware wallets (or finds a vulneribility in its software), they still need an additional hardware wallet to access your coins.

multisig

Ledger Nano S can be used as one of these devices, which makes it more appealing than hardware wallets that can’t be used in a multi-signature style cold storage.

One easy way to set up multisig using a Ledger Nano S is to pair it with Blockstream Green.

blockstream green hardware wallet

Root of Trust

Ledger no longer ships with tamper-resistant tape to prevent attackers from opening the box and manipulating the device before you receive it. Instead, Ledger offers a software solution for any user to determine if

  1. The device is a genuine Ledger device.
  2. The device has not be tampered with.

It achieves this through it’s “Root of Trust” tools.

root of trust

Here is how it works: When you run the tool on the ddeveice, Ledger’s servers send the device a message. The device can only respond if it has a specific private key on the device.

ledger attestation

If the device cannot respond, then it means the device either is not genuine or has been compromised and you shouldn’t use it.

Warning: This tool is only useful if you use it BEFORE transferring any funds to the device. If you send funds to the device and it is comromised, it won't matter if you use the tool since you funds will likely be gone by the time you find out.


Known Hacks at Ledger

Email Leaks

On July 29, 2020, Ledger made it known that their ecommerce databases had been hacked. This meant that personal customer information had been taken. Ledger explains the extent of the hack:

Ledger CEO

An unauthorized third party who accessed our e-commerce and marketing database – used to send order confirmations and promotional emails – consisting mostly of email addresses, but with a subset including also contact and order details such as first and last name, postal address, email address and phone number.


Pascal Gauthier

Ledger CEO

To be clear, no user funds were ever stolen. Only non-crypto related information about customers of Ledger was leaked.

Ledger App Isolation Bypass

A security researcher by the name of Monokh disclosed a bug regarding the way Ledger handles transaction signing within apps for Bitcoin and its derivative coins’ apps. He writes:

monokh favicon

The ledger device exposes bitcoin (mainnet) public key and signing functionality outside of the "Bitcoin" app. It presents misleading transaction confirmation requests indicating the selected app's addresses and amounts when in fact different transactions are being signed.


Monokh

Security Researcher

You can see this demonstrated in the picture below:

faketx

Ledger responded by saying this issue is known but is left alone to make sure the hardware wallet remains easy to use.

How dangerous this exploit is to the average user is unknown, but unlikely to affect most users. You would need multiple apps on your device that are forks of the Bitcoin blockchain. The attacker would then be able to know the Bitcoin xpub and prompt transactions for Bitcoin without using the Bitcoin app.

Ledger Live and Device Activation

Info: To use the device, you are first instructed to download the Ledger Live software for your computer or mobile device. This is necessary for you to authenticate the device, manage apps, create wallets, accounts and transactions.

The use of dedicated software is an improvement over the first iteration which utilized Chrome plugins.

nano s setup

Next you are prompted to create a passcode to secure and configure the Nano S device itself. Once this is complete you are presented with your 24 seed words, which you must confirm individually back to the device after you have recorded them.

This is the most important information related to both your wallets the Nano S device itself.

While having been provided three cards to back these up, paper should be recognized as the easily destroyed medium that it is.

Info: An extra level of security and peace of mind is easily achieved by using the Billfodl which is a much more disaster-resistant medium to store your seed words in.

Passphrase support is also available to provide a final fail safe security function in the event that your seed words wind up in the wrong hands.

Is it a Genuine Device?

Before going any further, you should complete a check to determine your device is genuine and hasn’t been compromised.

connect ledger
security checklist

Apps and Accounts

Once the seed words have been confirmed you may use the “manager” section of the Ledger Live software to install the wallet apps on the device.

Only once the a specific app for each cryptocurrency has been added may you create accounts for it. Installation takes about a minute per app.

Apps and accounts ledger live

One drawback, however, is the limited number of apps which you may install at any given time. The maximum number of apps is 4 or 5 depending upon what selections you make. This is the most glaring limitation of the Nano S.

Accounts, portfolio, send/receive and the manager are all on the left side menu in Ledger Live. Unlike the apps on the device, wallet accounts are essentially unlimited and can be renamed as desired.

ledger live accoun

This may not be clear to novice users, however. While the naming convention and context of a wallet address being an “account” is useful for conceptual purposes, it indirectly encourages the practice of address reuse which sacrifices privacy.

Sending and Receiving Coins on Nano S

Sending and receiving is straightforward once the apps have been installed and the desired wallet accounts have been created. Transactions are created in Ledger Live and then confirmed on the device as depicted below.

ledger live send

One small annoyance was understanding if the wallet should be unlocked before or after you begin creating the transaction. It is best to open the wallet and unlock it but wait until prompted to open the app until Ledger Live instructs you to do so.

The display allows you to confirm the address and amount before manually completing the transaction.

ledger screen send
ledger live transaction sent

After the transaction has been sent, the details can be copied to the clipboard and links to a block explorer are available. The device itself will log out after a predetermined amount of time for security reasons. The Ledger Live software also has this set to default but can be disabled if you wish.

Account Overview and History

The top menu item aggregates all your wallet balances into one countervalue of your choosing. You may select from several fiat currencies, BTC or ETH and it displays the change in balance over spans of a week, month or year.

ledger live historical view

From the settings menu you can also export your transaction history in CSV format which makes accounting quite easy.

operation history ledger live
Ledger live history export excel

Supported Coins

At the time of this writing, Ledger supports over 1,100 coins, including the bigger ones below and all ERC20 tokens.

[Ledger live coin list

For a full rundown of the coins supported by both the Ledger Nano S and Ledger Nano X, see our blog post here.

In short though, Ledger supports Bitcoin, XRP, Litecoin, Ethereum (along with all ERC20 tokens) as well as all the largest coins, including:

  • Bitcoin Cash
  • EOS
  • Stellar
  • Litecoin
  • Tether
  • Tron
  • Cardano
  • IOTA
  • Binance coin
  • Monero
  • Dash
  • Neo
  • And over 1000 more!

Operating Systems and Hardware Compatible with Ledger Nano S

  • Android
  • iOS
  • OS X
  • Windows
  • Linux
  • Trezor

The Importance of the Screen

Any hardware wallet that does not have its own dedicated screen is a pretty worthless piece of hardware.

Why?

The whole purpose of a hardware wallet is to air-gap your wallet. That means you able to confirm transactions and verify addresses on a device that is not connected to the internet.

Seed Recovery on Ledger Nano S
Seed Recovery on Ledger Nano S

If your hardware wallet did not have a screen, it would need to show you the addresses and transaction data on a screen connected to an internet accessible device.

Warning: This would defeat the whole purpose of the device in the first place, since the data on your screen could be easily manipulated (for instance, telling you that you are sending funds to one address when you are actually sending them to another).

Similarly, another reason all hardware wallets should have a dedicated screen is because you want to be able to view your recovery seed on a device that is not connected to the internet.

This brings us to privacy with the Nano S.

Using Ledger Nano S Privately

There are a number of steps you can take to make using your Ledger Nano S more private and secure.

ledger nano s USB

First, you can set up your device without using a computer at all. All the Nano S needs is a power source via USB.

You can also use the Ledger merely as a signing device and opt to use your own node to receive transaction broadcasts instead of relying on Ledger the company to hand that data off to you.

Screenshot of electrum.org
Electrum Download

The best way to do this is with Electrum Personal Server, but this is an advanced option and not without its own pitfalls.

COMPARISON

Ledger Nano X

Ledger Nano X

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2019
  • PRICE: $119
  • BLUETOOTH:
Ledger Nano S

Ledger Nano S

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2016
  • PRICE: $59
Trezor Model T

Trezor Model T

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2018
  • PRICE: $159
  • TOUCH SCREEN:
Trezor One

Trezor One

  • SCREEN:
  • RELEASED: 2013
  • PRICE: $59

Summary

The Ledger Nano S is a worthy cold storage device, especially for newcomers. While the buttons, display and connectivity options have been improved upon with the Ledger Nano X, these are creature comforts.

The slightly smaller feature set of the Nano S won’t diminish the experience of a long-term HODLer who will most likely leave the device unused for long periods of time.

With the Nano S storing your keys offline and your seed words kept as backup in a secure location, the logical next step is to add a Billfodl to the picture. Committing your seed words to stainless steel will dramatically reduce the risk of fire, flood, chemical spill or most other catastrophe erasing your funds.

Pros

  • One of the most trusted hardware wallets
  • User friendly
  • Device must be connected for all operations
  • Multi-signature Support
  • Device times out after a period of inactivity
  • Passphrase support
  • Ongoing development from Ledger

Cons

  • Low resolution screen
  • Limited app capacity
  • Closed Source

Pros

Cons

  • One of the most trusted hardware wallets
  • Low resolution screen
  • User friendly
  • Limited app capacity
  • Device must be connected for all operations
  • Closed Source
  • Multi-signature Support
  • Device times out after a period of inactivity
  • Passphrase support
  • Ongoing development from Ledger


Rating: 4.5/5

The Ledger Nano S is the most popular hardware wallet on the market, and there is a good reason for that. It’s small, but easy to use. It is well supported, and has a great history in terms of security. It does have it’s downsides though: it is clunky to navigate and the screen lacks something to be desired. The Nano X improves these shortfalls a lot, so it is worth checking out as well.

We give Ledger Nano S a score of 4.5 out of 5!

FAQ

Can Ledger Nano S be hacked?

Not easily, but it has been hacked before. Ledger is very good about issuing updates to known exploits quickly and offers a handsome bug bounty for anyone who can find a vulnerability in their hardware or software.

How many coins can Ledger Nano S hold?

Ledger Nano S can hold several different kinds of coins at a time. It is limited by the amount of harddrive space on the device. However it can hold an unlimited number of any particular coin you want.

What if you lose your Ledger Nano S?

If you lose your Ledger Nano S, it’s nothing to fear (most likely). When you set up your Nano S, you were given a 24 word phrase. This allows you to restore your wallet if you ever lose the Nano S or it is destroyed or stolen. If someone finds your Nano S, they are unlikely to be able to get your coins unless they are very skilled and have a lot of time before you move your coins to a new wallet.

Which is better - Trezor or Ledger?

Ledger is more secure if your wallet is found, however the Trezor does not have bluetooth, which reduces the risk of a remote attack on your device. The Trezor also has more features and a better screen if you do with the Model T.