How Did a Wristwatch and a Scabbard Influence Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity Wearables. The Evolution of the Form Factor. Part 1

Several hundred thousand years ago, an ape learned about carrying around a stick to protect himself and his family from predators and rivals. Then one day he tied the stick to his body with a piece of twine. This device left his hands free of the stick while it hung from his waist, always ready to be used when needed.

That was the first security wearable in human history. It brought about the beginning of Homo sapiens. Humanity has been constantly innovating since then. The security threats keep evolving as well. However, the problem remains the same. How can we make a device that’s effective in protecting us, while at the same time being easy to use and carry around?

The first security wearable in the history of mankind. Image by Max Pixel.

The first security wearable in the history of mankind. Image by Max Pixel.

A pocket watch, a wristwatch, an eyeglasses, a keyfob, a pendant and belt tools are the major human inventions that come to mind when thinking of wearables. Each item has its wearing history, explaining why it’s worn in its own manner and not in another.

Nuremberg Eggs and Prince Albert Chain

The Pocket watch was invented in the Middle Ages. Before that, portable watches were usually resembling buckets that were carried around by hand or on a chain around the neck. The most typical of those were Nürnberger Ei or ‘Nuremberg eggs’ manufactured by a clockmaker Peter Henlein who was based in Nuremberg, Germany.

A Nuremberg egg allegedly created by Peter Henlein circa 1550 although his authorship of this exact device remains a matter of scientific dispute. By that time China was agricultural country ruled by Jiajing Emperor and each clock was personally manufactured by Mr. Henlein and his apprentices in Nuremberg, making these devices limited in number and very expensive. Courtesy of Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Photo by Wikipedia user Pirkheimer.

A Nuremberg egg allegedly created by Peter Henlein circa 1550 although his authorship of this exact device remains a matter of scientific dispute. By that time China was agricultural country ruled by Jiajing Emperor and each clock was personally manufactured by Mr. Henlein and his apprentices in Nuremberg, making these devices limited in number and very expensive. Courtesy of Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Photo by Wikipedia user Pirkheimer.

Originally, the primary customers were monks at monasteries that needed to ring the bells in the bell towers at just the right moment. After monasteries, pocket watches arrived at the courts of the European monarchs. ‘Punctuality is a kingly virtue’ idiom has a direct meaning: even some aristocrats could not afford to buy a pocket watch. Lay people oriented themselves with the bells of the bell towers or stationary clocks at the city council buildings.

The watches were placed in the pocket for practical reasons. The mechanism of the ancient pocket watches was fragile and prone to rotting from exposure to the elements. In the early XVII century a glass cover was introduced to protect the watch faces from moisture and dust. In early the XIX century Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, introduced the “Albert chain”, designed to secure the pocket watch to the jacket using a clip.

Hunter Case

Victorian England also gave rise to hunter-case watches. This type of pocket watches had a metal lid on top of the watch face. The Demi-hunter also had a metal lid. However, it had a circle hole in the enter exposing the hands so that the viewer could quickly guess the approximate time without actually opening the lid.

Pocket watch with half hunter case also known as ‘demi savonnette’, because of the case resemblance of a soap bar, ‘savon’ meaning ‘soap’ in French. Image by The Getty Conservation Institute.

A Present to Napoleon’s Sister

The Wristwatch. The first wristwatches appeared among European aristocracy in the XVI century and were a jewelry item worn only by ladies. Constructively they were pocket watches on a strap or lace usually decorated with precious stones and metals.

Marie Annonciade Caroline Murat (née Bonaparte) (1782—1839) — younger sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and the owner of what is considered one of the first wristwatches. The device was designed by Swiss horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet, founder of the firm that now became Breguet brand. Portrait by François Gérard (1770—1837). Photo by Wikipedia user Bogomolov.PL. Photo of the modern reproduction of Murat Watch by Breguet.

However, in the XIX century, the evolution of artillery and steam engines brought the need for more practical type of wrist watches. They were now needed by officers to coordinate the timing of attacks so that the troops were not affected by the friendly artillery fire while offering minimal distractions for the officer in combat.

The first solution to the problem was a ‘trench watch’. It was a combination of a pocket watch, and of what would later become a wristwatch. Usually trench watches had a double case to protect the clock mechanism and a mounting lug to which the leather strap was attached. Officers could wear their trench watch in both manners: as a pocket device and as a wrist device. Interestingly, Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux started making such watches for the German Navy in 1880, being among the first makers of the trench watch. Obviously, one would not find many trenches in the ocean.

A photo by Wikipedia User Sergei Gutnikov displaying a trench watch from his personal collection.

A photo by Wikipedia User Sergei Gutnikov displaying a trench watch from his personal collection.

Boer Wars and Kickstarter

Right around the same time, in the late XIX century, Britain was waging colonial wars all across the globe. In 1893, Garstin Company of London patented a “watch wristlet” design. In 1898 Mappin & Webb launched its iconic “Campaign Watch” wristlet model. All these products were based on the success of their military versions in the First Boer War for the South Africa and British successful Burma and Sudan campaigns. The additional cases slowly disappeared. However, most models featured luminous dials made of radium.

A ‘Campaign Watch’ advertisement by Mappin & Webb. Image by Wikipedia user Noodleki.

A ‘Campaign Watch’ advertisement by Mappin & Webb. Image by Wikipedia user Noodleki.

In the 1950s watches with electronic mechanisms were introduced, then the clock face became digital in the 1960-ies. In 2012, Pebble raised $10.3 million through a Kickstarter campaign to produce the first commercial smartwatch, which in fact is a computer on your wrist. However, the form factor of the wristwatch remains intact in the XIX century, being the most practical and convenient.

Pebble Watch. Photo by Wikipedia user Frmorrison.

Pebble Watch. Photo by Wikipedia user Frmorrison.

What Do Viking Swords and Ōdachi Have in Common?

Our introductory ‘ape, stick and liane’ example was also evolving through ages. Humans invented sword some 1700—1500 years BC to replace a stick with a more powerful weapon.

Notably, swords were pretty heavy to carry around, so a scabbard appeared. With a scabbard, a warrior quickly fixed a sword to his waist. However, he had the ability to draw his weapon fast, should it become necessary. The scabbard also served as a case for the sword, protecting its sharpness. It required no unlacing of straps that fixed a sword to a warrior’s belt.

Integrated scabbard belt from XIII century as reconstructed and photographed by Flickr user One lucky guy.

Integrated scabbard belt from XIII century as reconstructed and photographed by Flickr user One lucky guy.

The Japanese ōdachi was a notable exception. This type of a sword was too long to be carried on the waist, so samurais usually carried it on their backs with a special scabbard.

Warrior Hiyoshimaru with ōdachi sword on his back. Painting by Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839—1892). Reproduction by 『美談武者八景 矢矧の落雁』

Warrior Hiyoshimaru with ōdachi sword on his back. Painting by Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839—1892). Reproduction by 『美談武者八景 矢矧の落雁』

Gold Rush and Jeans

Time passed, firearms and artillery made swords and scabbards irrelevant in the battlefield. However, in 1848 gold was discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The resulting gold rush lasted for a decade and brought hundreds of thousands of prospectors to California. After the rush was over, many of those people started looking for ordinary jobs as carpenters, builders and other laborers.

Among them was Jacob W. Davis — a tailor who was born in Latvia. Some client asked Davis to create durable pants for her husband, who worked as a woodcutter. Davis used denim cotton and copper rivets. The pants were a hit, especially with the railroad workers. After some time, Davis entered a partnership with Levi Strauss. Levi was an immigrant from Austria who already became rich selling various dry goods during the gold rush. The outcome of the partnership was the invention of jeans.

Left: An illustration from the US Patent No. 139121 granted to Jacob W. Davis of Levi Strauss & Co. Right: a modern leather tool belt custom made by Make Smith Leather Co. of Santa Barbara, CA.

Jeans revolutionized the waist as a form factor for wearables. Being durable, they allowed various tools: from axe or hammer to pencil or gauge tape to be fixed to worker’s pants. It meant the tools were always at a handy distance. Even better, now it could have been achieved without causing damage to the fabric of the pants.

Beyond the Jeans: The Walkman Generation

By the end of 1970s, a miniaturisation of electronics brought the first electronic devices close to the human body. Of course the primary place for them was the belt of the jeans — a symbol of that generation. Among the first to arrive there were portable radios and cassette players. In 1979, Sony launched Walkman. It was the product that would become an icon of the 1980s.

Sony Walkman WM-2 featuring belt clip and a separate battery case. Image by Wikipedia user Esa Sorjonen.

Sony Walkman WM-2 featuring belt clip and a separate battery case. Image by Wikipedia user Esa Sorjonen.

Sony used an old but good, scabbard concept: unlike many competing products the device itself had no ugly clips attached. Instead, its belt clip was attached to the holder. It became easy to take the device out, change the cassette and then return the player inside the holder. The holder also protected the player from outside impacts.

Sources of Inspiration for Hideez Key 2

When creating Hideez Key 2, we tried thinking of the key fob form factor, which became the de facto standard in the cybersecurity industry after RSA introduced their bestselling SecurID. By the way, we will cover key fobs in our next post in this sequence about the evolution of the wearable form factors.

However, being convenient and easy to market, the key fob form factor has its share of disadvantages. For example, the Apple Watch brought ambient security of wearables to the next level with its wrist detection feature. A scenario like wrist detection is currently too complicated when using a key fob. The light sensor has to have permanent skin contact, ensure the device is still on its owner’s wrist.

Apple Watch brought significant changes to the device security with its ‘wrist detection’ feature. Photo by Pixabay

Apple Watch brought significant changes to the device security with its ‘wrist detection’ feature. Photo by Pixabay

A key fob usually infers a USB port. If you’re a heavy user of USB sticks since the 1990s (like me, the author), then you should have already broken at least a few USB sticks. The accident scenarios vary. Desktop customers usually strike the stick with a chair or leg. For laptops, it’s usually falling down that brings the device to a violent end. However, the outcome is usually the same: the USB stick stops to function either temporarily or permanently. Often this happens exactly at the moment when you really need it the most.

Another drawback of the key fob, is that even its name invites attaching it to the keychain. Still, there are situations when the key has to stay inside the lock. For example, the owner is home and leaves the key inside the lock to be able to quickly open the door when needed. In this case a cybersecurity device that’s attached to the key will stay with it inside the lock, while the owner walks away.

Each time a confirmation, or other action, is required from the device, the customer will have to walk over to the door. Alternatively, the customer will have to take the keychain with her. That means the keychain has to be with the customer the next time she arrives to the door looking to open it.

Taking all these considerations in mind, Hideez Key 2 comes with a wristband case. The wristband case is already known to the market from Xiaomi Mi Band and its various clones. We adopted this form factor from fitness into cybersecurity, combining three antennas and a multi-functional button. The connection between the password vault is wireless, there’s no risk fpr breaking the stick. The device is located on the wrist, always ready to be used by the customer.

Hideez Key 2 with a wristband. This is actual photo of our CES 2017 Prototypes.

Hideez Key 2 with a wristband. This is actual photo of our CES 2017 Prototypes.

The clip form factor of Hideez Key, deserves its own story. Making it very brief: A clip would have made it easier to take/return the device from/to ‘the scabbard’. This would simplify everyday use. However, the metal frame of the clip would have created radio interferences for all three antennas (Bluetooth, NFC, RFID) and might have been difficult to manufacture.

Ben Epstein of Bolt.VC gives a great rationale for not doing clip form factor right now, ‘No, You Can’t Manufacture That Like Apple Does’. Too many hardware startups are dead now because their early products were too hard to manufacture. Therefore, it was a hard choice, but we decided to start with a wristband — the form factor which the Hideez team saw as the most promising. Nonetheless, a clip continues to be next most promising wearable form factor in cybersecurity. We’re watching it closely to include it in our roadmap for whenever it becomes feasible.

Author: Gennadiy Kornev

Marketing and Product Advisor of Hideez Technology, content distribution systems architect, project manager, tatko

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