People are going to great lengths to protect their bitcoin at a time when it's still valuable. Although the highly volatile coin has plunged from its record high of $19,340 last December, it's still worth just over $6,800 a coin today. But according to research from the digital forensics firm Chainanalysis, 17 to 23 percent of all bitcoin is lost forever.
If you're worried about losing your bitcoin, or simply tired of carrying a wallet, a Dutch bitcoin enthusiast may have a solution for you. Martijn Wismeijer, a marketing manager at the bitcoin ATM manufacturer General Bytes, stores access to his bitcoin in chips that are placed under his skin.
Wismeijer had the chips implanted in 2014 partly because he was curious, he says. But the chips are also a hassle-free way to use bitcoin and are a safer storage device than a digital wallet. Wismeijer can make purchases with the wave of a hand, he can store his recovery password on the chip itself, instead of writing it on a piece of paper that can easily be misplaced, and the chips are difficult to hack, he explains.
In fact, Wismeijer wishes that he had the chip when he started buying bitcoin in 2010. "I can safely say most of the bitcoin, more than 80 percent, I have lost due to hacks, thefts, exchanges gone bad and other problems," he tells CNBC Make It. "If I would've had the chip in 2010, I'd probably be a rich man by now."
Wismeijer did not want to disclose how much cryptocurrency he has on his chip but notes that he doesn't store large amounts because of the attention he has received. To avoid hacking threats or physical threats, Wismeijer stores just enough for a few beers or a coffee.
"I know a lot of people that do have substantial amounts of storage," he adds. "But they're a bit more discreet about it and not the whole world knows that they've got some crypto."
Others have followed Wismeijer's lead, and some of his employees received chips of their own. "I know at least 50 of them in the Prague area," he says.
Wismeijer first got the idea to store bitcoin under his skin after a friend at the biohacking company Dangerous Things sent him the chip implant as a gift. "[My friend] wanted to use it for things like to start his car, and lock his door, and [other] basic things," the programmer recalls. "I thought it was a great idea for cryptocurrency."
So Wismeijer, who refers to himself as "Mr. Bitcoin," paid a body piercing artist about $75 to inject an xNT near-field communication (NFC) microchip on both hands in the fleshy part of his skin between the thumb and index finger.
The injection process took a matter of seconds, he says. The body piercer cut a space between the skin and the muscle tissue, creating about a 10-millimeter space, and injected the chip. "It's very well-protected there," says Wismeijer. "You'll never really damage it."
As for pain, he says it was less painful than having an IV drip put in. The healing process took a maximum of two weeks, says the programmer, but you can start experimenting with the chip after three days.
Both chips are about the size of a small grain of rice and are compatible with gadgets containing an NFC antenna, like smartphones, tablets and certain retail point of sale systems. Their small size makes them hard to see even in full body scanners, he says, "so people won't have to explain themselves when they go through customs."
The chips also store other forms of cryptocurrency, such as litecoin and dash, and they can be used to wirelessly log in to computers and unlock car doors. But first, you must go through a lengthy process to program the chip.
Users must set up a password on the device, download an Android-only companion app, insert their private bitcoin key made up of a long list of characters, then download another app to protect stored passwords and all of your information.
The technology itself is not new. Veterinarians inject microchips into animals as a tracking device, and a Swedish startup recently started implanting microchips into employees. While similar chips have been found to be biologically safe and are even FDA-approved for medical uses, there are some health concerns. Studies by toxicology specialists and veterinarians found that chip implants may cause cancer and in rare cases the chip may migrate to other parts of the body or become infected, according to the FDA.
Still, these risks did not stop Wismeijer from undergoing the subdermal injection. "I wasn't really afraid that it would go wrong or anything because it was a hygienic procedure," says Wismeijer. "And now I use them every day."
So far, he hasn't had any health problems or complications from the procedure, although he acknowledges that chip implantation is not for everyone. For that reason, he created a bitcoin card, similar to a credit card, so that customers can deposit and remove bitcoin from his ATM machines and make purchases at places that accept cryptocurrency.
However, Wismeijer says he much prefers having an implant because it's compatible with bitcoin ATM machines and he can pay for products by waving his hand over a compatible NFC scanner.
Each chip stores 888 bytes, which isn't much, but Wismeijer says that his team of engineers is creating an updated chip with more memory. The chip is stored in a glass cylinder, called a capacitor, and has a small antenna that can then sync the chip to your smartphone and also charge the implant.
"It's a very low-power device," says the engineer. "Vets have been doing this to our pets for decades."
Since he's had such a positive experience with his chip implants, Wismeijer says he may swap them out once his team of engineers finalizes their upgraded chip. "No disadvantages that I can immediately think of," he says. "I'm happy with it. Great experiment."
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