If anything can go wrong, it will most likely go wrong! Murphy’s Law sounds like an overly pessimistic philosophy, coated with a good layer of doom and gloom. Yet, for folks who lost all their Bitcoin in the infamous Mt. Gox hack, there’s not much that can be done when your cryptocurrencies become vulnerable to malicious intent.
If hackers steal your cryptocurrencies – you’ll probably never find them – even if you find them; the police, the government, courts can’t force them give it back to you – unless they choose to give it back. If they trick you into sending your cryptocurrencies to them, you can’t reverse or cancel the transaction. We are still living in the Wild West of cryptocurrencies and the onus falls on you to proactively take precautionary measures to protect your cryptocurrency funds. This piece provides a general overview of some security measures you can take to keep crypto coins safe.
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· Online wallets
For newbies stepping into the world of cryptocurrencies, online wallets are usually the first type of wallet that they encounter and use. If you buy your cryptocurrencies through an exchange, the wallet address they generate for you into which your tokens are deposited, is an online wallet. Some third-party non-exchanges also offer online wallet services. An online wallet allows you to access your coins from any internet enabled device because the data to your account is essentially stored on the cloud.
The danger with online wallets is that you are trusting someone else with the public and private keys to your tokens. If they are unscrupulous, they could corner your coins and use it for their own purposes. The fact that online wallets are internet-facing also makes them vulnerable to hacks – in the Mt. Gox hack, more than 500,000 BTC were stolen, more than $70M worth of Bitcoin was lost in the Bitfinex hack of 2016.
· Mobile Wallets
Mobile wallets are fundamentally more secure than online wallets, but they require a bit more involvement on your part than getting an auto-generated wallet address from an exchange. Mobile wallets are simple apps that run on your phone. Your cryptocurrencies are technically stored in the app as opposed to the centralized cloud storage that you get with an online wallet; hence, they are more protected from hacks. However, if you lose your phone or if the phone becomes inoperable, you can kiss your cryptocurrencies goodbye. If you download mobile wallets from untested sources, you could end up with a fake wallet with a backdoor breach.
· Desktop Wallets
Desktop wallets are a more robust version of mobile wallets – they have more space because computers tend to have more storage than mobile devices. Desktop wallets run on client applications on your computer; hence, you can only access your tokens from the computer. If the computer is not infected with malware or connected to the internet, it is practically impossible to steal your cryptocurrencies from a desktop wallet.
· Hardware Wallets
Hardware wallets are probably the best tool in the market for storing and keeping your cryptocurrencies safe from hackers. Hardware wallets lets you store the private keys to your cryptocurrencies on a hardware device different from your computer. You’ll need to connect the wallet to a computer to access your cryptocurrencies and send coins to counterparties; however, the wallet doesn’t need to be connected to a computer before you receive cryptocurrencies.
Trezor wallet for example, uses a combination of pin codes and a 24-word seed security mechanism. The most important thing about using a Trezor wallet is to write down the seed and keep it somewhere safe offline—don’t be tempted to store it in your mailbox or a notepad on your computer. The seed words come in handy for rebuilding your wallet even if your Trezor is lost, stolen, or damaged.
· Paper Wallets
Paper wallets are designed to be a hacker- proof and secure method of cold storage. Paper wallets, when properly set up will give a lot of grief to anybody that wants to take on the practically impossible task of stealing your cryptocurrencies – the challenge however is that you will go through similar grief to access your cryptocurrencies. To set up a paper wallet, you’ll need to print your private keys or create QR codes of your keys and keep them in a safe, probably in a bank or similar location.