Bitcoin is a new currency that was created in 2009 by an unknown person using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Transactions are made with no middle men – meaning, no banks! Bitcoin can be used to book hotels on Expedia, shop for furniture on Overstock and buy Xbox games. But much of the hype is about getting rich by trading it. The price of bitcoin skyrocketed into the thousands in 2017.
Bitcoins can be used to buy merchandise anonymously. In addition, international payments are easy and cheap because bitcoins are not tied to any country or subject to regulation. Small businesses may like them because there are no credit card fees. Some people just buy bitcoins as an investment, hoping that they’ll go up in value.
Each Bitcoin is basically a computer file which is stored in a ‘digital wallet‘ app on a smartphone or computer. People can send Bitcoins (or part of one) to your digital wallet, and you can send Bitcoins to other people. Every single transaction is recorded in a public list called the blockchain.
What Is a Bitcoin Wallet?
A Bitcoin wallet is a software program in which Bitcoins are stored. Technically, Bitcoins are not stored anywhere. For every individual who has a balance in a Bitcoin wallet, there is a private key (secret number) corresponding to the Bitcoin address of that wallet. Bitcoin wallets facilitate the sending and receiving of Bitcoins and give ownership of the Bitcoin balance to the user. The Bitcoin wallet comes in many forms. The four main types are desktop, mobile, web, and hardware.
- A Bitcoin wallet is a not a physical item but a software program for holding and trading Bitcoins.
- Wallets contain a private key for security. The key corresponds to the address of the wallet.
- The four types of Bitcoin wallet are desktop, mobile, web, and hardware.
A cryptocurrency wallet is a device, physical medium, program or a service which stores the public and/or private keys for cryptocurrency transactions. In addition to this basic function of storing the keys, a cryptocurrency wallet more often also offers the functionality of encrypting and/or signing information
Securing your Bitcoin wallet
Like in real life, your wallet must be secured. Bitcoin makes it possible to transfer value anywhere in a very easy way and it allows you to be in control of your money. Such great features also come with great security concerns. At the same time, Bitcoin can provide very high levels of security if used correctly. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your money.
Be careful with online services
You should be wary of any service designed to store your money online. Many exchanges and online wallets suffered from security breaches in the past and such services generally still do not provide enough insurance and security to be used to store money like a bank. Accordingly, you might want to use other types of Bitcoin wallets. Otherwise, you should choose such services very carefully. Additionally, using two-factor authentication is recommended.
Small amounts for everyday uses
A Bitcoin wallet is like a wallet with cash. If you wouldn’t keep a thousand dollars in your pocket, you might want to have the same consideration for your Bitcoin wallet. In general, it is a good practice to keep only small amounts of bitcoins on your computer, mobile, or server for everyday uses and to keep the remaining part of your funds in a safer environment.
Backup your wallet
Stored in a safe place, a backup of your wallet can protect you against computer failures and many human mistakes. It can also allow you to recover your wallet after your mobile or computer was stolen if you keep your wallet encrypted.
Backup your entire wallet
Some wallets use many hidden private keys internally. If you only have a backup of the private keys for your visible Bitcoin addresses, you might not be able to recover a great part of your funds with your backup.
Encrypt online backups
Any backup that is stored online is highly vulnerable to theft. Even a computer that is connected to the Internet is vulnerable to malicious software. As such, encrypting any backup that is exposed to the network is a good security practice.
Use many secure locations
Single points of failure are bad for security. If your backup is not dependent of a single location, it is less likely that any bad event will prevent you to recover your wallet. You might also want to consider using different medias like USB keys, papers and CDs.
Make regular backups
You need to backup your wallet on a regular basis to make sure that all recent Bitcoin change addresses and all new Bitcoin addresses you created are included in your backup. However, all applications will be soon using wallets that only need to be backed up once.
Encrypt your wallet
Encrypting your wallet or your smartphone allows you to set a password for anyone trying to withdraw any funds. This helps protect against thieves, though it cannot protect against keylogging hardware or software.
Never forget your password
You should make sure you never forget the password or your funds will be permanently lost. Unlike your bank, there are very limited password recovery options with Bitcoin. In fact, you should be able to remember your password even after many years without using it. In doubt, you might want to keep a paper copy of your password in a safe place like a vault.
Use a strong password
Any password that contains only letters or recognizable words can be considered very weak and easy to break. A strong password must contain letters, numbers, punctuation marks and must be at least 16 characters long. The most secure passwords are those generated by programs designed specifically for that purpose. Strong passwords are usually harder to remember, so you should take care in memorizing it.
Keep your software up to date
Using the latest version of your Bitcoin software allows you to receive important stability and security fixes. Updates can prevent problems of various severity, include new useful features and help keep your wallet safe. Installing updates for all other software on your computer or mobile is also important to keep your wallet environment safer.
Multi-signature to protect against theft
Bitcoin includes a multi-signature feature that allows a transaction to require multiple independent approvals to be spent. This can be used by an organization to give its members access to its treasury while only allowing a withdrawal if 3 of 5 members sign the transaction. Some web wallets also provide multi-signature wallets, allowing the user to keep control over their money while preventing a thief from stealing funds by compromising a single device or server.
Think about your successor
Your bitcoins can be lost forever if you don’t have a backup plan for your peers and family. If the location of your wallets or your passwords are not known by anyone when you are gone, there is no hope that your funds will ever be recovered. Taking a bit of time on these matters can make a huge difference.
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