If the safety of your bitcoins is keeping you awake at night, perhaps it’s time you considered a more secure solution. Exchanges can be hacked, smartphones can die, and hardware wallets can be lost. For the ultra-paranoid, there’s only one storage option that’s impregnable to all known attack vectors – the brainwallet. If you get it right that is.
Bitcoin on the Brain
Bitcoin is thought of as a digital currency, but unlike Paypal or credit card, it’s equally suited to the analogue world. You can’t spend bitcoin offline, but you can store it in the form of a paper wallet (saving the pass key on a piece of paper). Take that approach one step further, by removing the paper, and you’ve got yourself a brainwallet. It’s the only bitcoin wallet that’s 100% impervious to phishing or hardware failure. If you die, the wallet dies with you, but by that stage, bitcoins – and indeed life itself – will no longer be your concern.
Creating a brainwallet is as simple as memorizing the wallet’s mnemonic recovery phrase. For those who desire the ultimate in privacy and discreteness, it’s possible to memorize the wallet address too. That way there’s no paper or digital trail tying you to your coins.
There are numerous reasons why it may be desirable to create an invisible wallet. Paranoia, primarily, but it’s also a neat solution for anyone who trusts their memory better than they trust third party technology. For “persons of interest” passing through U.S. customs, for instance, a brain wallet is one repository that’s guaranteed to be off-limits to curious TSA agents. They can rifle through your hard drive but, for now at least, they can’t rifle through your head.
How to Create Your Own Brain Wallet
To make your own brainwallet all you need is a brain and a mnemonic seed generator. Electrum, Armory, and Mycelium will all do the trick. There’s also Brainwallet.io, a deterministic bitcoin address generator. It explains: “Store bitcoin in your brain by remembering your passphrase and salts. Address generation takes place in your browser, and no information is ever sent to our server.” The site’s Github repository can be inspected for those of a cautious disposition – and if you’re considering a brainwallet, that’s you.
There aren’t many do’s and don’ts when it comes to generating a brainwallet, but the following is an absolute don’t – don’t use an existing phrase as your passphrase. People have created scripts that can search through millions of wallet addresses and try known phrases against them. Thus, your favorite biblical scripture or Katy Perry lyric is out of the question. Instead, use a genuinely random sequence of words. To ensure true randomicity, Brainwallet.io lets you drop any file into the text box. Your browser will then perform a SHA256 hash and use the checksum as your passphrase.
How to Remember Your Mnemonic Passphrase
The simplest way to ensure you never forget your passphrase is to write it down and store it in a very safe place. That’s fine if you’re traveling to a different country, as you can leave a backup at home in case your memory fails you. Writing down a brainwallet kind of defeats the point of creating one though. If you want to stay true to the spirit of the game, you’re gonna need to remember, and remember good. To do so, you’ll want to create a memory palace.
The seed provided as an example on bitcoin wiki’s brainwallet page is as follows:
witch collapse practice feed shame open despair creek road again ice least
To memorize this, you’d take a familiar place – your childhood home perhaps – and construct a visual sequence: You open the door to your house to find a witch staggering about in the hallway. She’s having a heart attack and is about to collapse. As you’re preparing to practice your CPR, she sinks her teeth into your neck and begins to feed on your jugular.
Yes, memory palaces are very silly, but that’s what makes them so effective. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything is an excellent read for anyone with an interest in such matters. Creating a brainwallet may seem excessive, but so long as you can recall your seed, it’s guaranteed to keep hackers and quantum computers at bay. And at zero dollars, it’s infinitely cheaper than a hardware wallet.
Would you trust your memory enough to use a brainwallet? Let us know in the comments section below.
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Author: Kai Sedgwick