Use this straightforward guide to learn what a cryptocurrency wallet is, how they work and discover which one’s are the best on the market. If you are looking for something a bit more in detail about cryptocurrencies please check out our course on it. What is a Cryptocurrency Wallet? Enjoy a free lesson from the Blockgeeks Library!
A cryptocurrency wallet is a software program that stores private and public keys and interacts with various blockchain to enable users to send and receive digital currency and monitor their balance. If you want to use Bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency, you will need to have a digital wallet. How Do They Work?
Millions of people use cryptocurrency wallets, but there is a considerable misunderstanding about how they work. Unlike traditional ‘pocket’ wallets, digital wallets don’t store currency. In fact, currencies don’t get stored in any single location or exist anywhere in any physical form. All that exists are records of transactions stored on the blockchain.
Cryptocurrency wallets are software programs that store your public and private keys and interface with various blockchains so users can monitor their balance, send money and conduct other operations. When a person sends you bitcoins or any other type of digital currency, they are essentially signing off ownership of the coins to your wallet’s address. To be able to spend those coins and unlock the funds, the private key stored in your wallet must match the public address the currency is assigned to. If the public and private keys match, the balance in your digital wallet will increase, and the senders will decrease accordingly. There is no actual exchange of real coins. The transaction is signified merely by a transaction record on the blockchain and a change in balance in your cryptocurrency wallet.
What are the different types of Cryptocurrency wallets?
There are several types of wallets that provide different ways to store and access your digital currency. Wallets can be broken down into three distinct categories – software, hardware, and paper. Software wallets can be a desktop, mobile or online.
- Desktop: wallets are downloaded and installed on a PC or laptop. They are only accessible from the single computer in which they are downloaded. Desktop wallets offer one of the highest levels of security however if your computer is hacked or gets a virus there is the possibility that you may lose all your funds.
- Online: wallets run on the cloud and are accessible from any computing device in any location. While they are more convenient to access, online wallets store your private keys online and are controlled by a third party which makes them more vulnerable to hacking attacks and theft.
- Mobile: wallets run on an app on your phone and are useful because they can be used anywhere including retail stores. Mobile wallets are usually much smaller and simpler than desktop wallets because of the limited space available on mobile.
- Hardware: wallets differ from software wallets in that they store a user’s private keys on a hardware device like a USB. Although hardware wallets make transactions online, they are stored offline which delivers increased security. Hardware wallets can be compatible with several web interfaces and can support different currencies; it just depends on which one you decide to use. What’s more, making a transaction is easy. Users simply plug in their device to any internet-enabled computer or device, enter a pin, send currency and confirm. Hardware wallets make it possible to easily transact while also keeping your money offline and away from danger.
- Paper: wallets are easy to use and provide a very high level of security. While the term paper wallet can simply refer to a physical copy or printout of your public and private keys, it can also refer to a piece of software that is used to securely generate a pair of keys which are then printed. Using a paper wallet is relatively straightforward. Transferring Bitcoin or any other currency to your paper wallet is accomplished by the transfer of funds from your software wallet to the public address shown on your paper wallet. Alternatively, if you want to withdraw or spend currency, all you need to do is transfer funds from your paper wallet to your software wallet. This process, often referred to as ‘sweeping,’ can either be done manually by entering your private keys or by scanning the QR code on the paper wallet.
Are Cryptocurrency wallets secure?
Wallets are secure to varying degrees. The level of security depends on the type of wallet you use (desktop, mobile, online, paper, hardware) and the service provider. A web server is an intrinsically riskier environment to keep your currency compared to offline. Online wallets can expose users to possible vulnerabilities in the wallet platform which can be exploited by hackers to steal your funds. Offline wallets, on the other hand, cannot be hacked because they simply aren’t connected to an online network and don’t rely on a third party for security.
Although online wallets have proven the most vulnerable and prone to hacking attacks, diligent security precautions need to be implemented and followed when using any wallet. Remember that no matter which wallet you use, losing your private keys will lead you to lose your money. Similarly, if your wallet gets hacked, or you send money to a scammer, there is no way to reclaim lost currency or reverse the transaction. You must take precautions and be very careful!
- Backup your wallet. Store only small amounts of currency for everyday use online, on your computer or mobile, keeping the vast majority of your funds in a high-security environment. Cold or offline storage options for backup like Ledger Nano X or paper or USB will protect you against computer failures and allow you to recover your wallet should it be lost or stolen. It will not, however, protect you against eager hackers. The reality is, if you choose to use an online wallet there are inherent risks that can’t always be protected against.
- Update software. Keep your software up to date so that you have the latest security enhancements available. You should regularly update not only your wallet software but also the software on your computer or mobile.
- Add extra security layers. The more layers of security, the better. Setting long and complex passwords and ensuring any withdrawal of funds requires a password is a start. Use wallets that have a good reputation and provide extra security layers like two-factor authentication and additional pin code requirements every time a wallet application gets opened. You may also want to consider a wallet that offers multisig transactions like Armory or Copay. A multisig or multi-signature wallet requires the permission of another user or users before a transaction can be made.
Multi-currency or single-use?
Although Bitcoin is by far the most well-known and popular digital currency, hundreds of new cryptocurrencies (referred to as altcoins) have emerged, each with distinctive ecosystems and infrastructure. If you’re interested in using a variety of cryptocurrencies, the good news is, you don’t need to set up a separate wallet for each currency. Instead of using a cryptocurrency wallet that supports a single currency, it may be more convenient to set up a multi-currency wallet which enables you to use several currencies from the same wallet. Are there any transaction fees?
There is no straightforward answer here.
In general, transaction fees are a tiny fraction of traditional bank fees. Sometimes fees need to be paid for certain types of transactions to network miners as a processing fee, while some transactions don’t have any fee at all. It’s also possible to set your own fee. As a guide, the median transaction size of 226 bytes would result in a fee of 18,080 satoshis or $0.12. In some cases, if you choose to set a low fee, your transaction may get low priority, and you might have to wait hours or even days for the transaction to get confirmed. If you need your transaction completed and confirmed promptly, then you might need to increase the amount you’re willing to pay. Whatever wallet you end up using, transaction fees are not something you should worry about. You will either pay minuscule transaction fees, choose your own fees or pay no fees at all. A definite improvement from the past! Are cryptocurrency wallets anonymous?