A-list celebrities and social media influencers are now adding their voices to the roar of other cryptocurrency fans asking you to join them in the investments of the future. It’s impossible to deny the grip cryptocurrencies have on the world today, for better or worse. In some industries, they speed the pace of business and for some, it’s a viable way to make ends meet and set up long-term investments. The cryptocurrency realm has also proven to be vulnerable to cybercriminals. For example, the Wormhole hack leaked $320 million, and cybercriminals have targeted crypto platforms with ransomware and mining app scams.
Whether you’re already in the cryptocurrency game or are thinking about taking the plunge, here’s what you need to know about crypto wallets and tips on how to keep yours safe from cybercriminals.
What Is a Crypto Wallet?
A cryptocurrency wallet, or crypto wallet, is a software product or a physical device that stores the public and private keys to your cryptocurrency accounts. Keys are strings of numbers and letters that encrypt and decrypt crypto transactions and secure crypto accounts. You can think of public keys as the routing and account numbers that appear at the bottom of paper checks. There’s not much a nefarious character can do with that information, and it’s totally normal to give that information to an acquaintance with whom you’re doing business. Private keys are like your online banking password or debit PIN. Those you must guard very closely because in the wrong hands, your hard-earned bank balance could disappear. A crypto wallet also allows you to transfer funds between crypto types and make transactions.
What Are Some Types of Crypto Wallets?
Here are a few basic types of crypto wallets to help you decide which type is right for you.
Noncustodial vs. custodial
A non-custodial wallet means that you are the sole keeper of the keys to your crypto assets. If you forget your password, there’s no “forgot your password?” prompt to let you back in. While not having this safety net is a little nerve wracking, noncustodial wallets are considered the more secure option. You don’t have to worry about a security breach of a major corporation leaking your private key. If you’re responsible and confident that you’re prepared to look after your assets by yourself, this may be the best option for you.
A custodial wallet is a little less secure, but you have a third party helping you log in and manage your crypto accounts. Custodial wallets are often web-based, and the biggest tick in their pro column is that they’re generally very easy to use. While reputable custodial wallets take security very seriously, the threat of a breach is always a possibility, especially as crypto accounts are appealing targets to cybercriminals.
Hardware vs. software
Hardware wallets, also known as cold wallets, are devices you can fit in the palm of your hand. Most models are Bluetooth-enabled devices that look like small remote controls or are flash drives. The device is secured by a PIN that you should never write down or share with anyone else. Also, you should designate a safe and private spot to store your hardware wallet. Similar to a noncustodial wallet, you are solely responsible for keeping track of the device and remembering the PIN. If you lose it, your crypto accounts are locked, and there’s no locksmith to open them for you. As long as you keep track of it, hardware wallets are very secure. Most models are equipped with malware- and virus-proofing security features.
Software wallets are downloaded and internet-connected mobile or desktop apps. They allow you to make transactions on the run, as you can access your crypto accounts from your phone. In that sense, they’re more convenient than hardware wallets. Additionally, software wallets have the same safety net as custodial wallets: if you lose your phone, forget your password, or require login assistance, the maker of the software can help you access your accounts. Software wallets are very secure when you enable their two-factor authentication login settings; however, since they connect to the internet, there’s always a chance a cybercriminal could break-in. Thus, hardware wallets are considered more secure than the software variety.
How to Keep Your Crypto Wallet Safe
Check out these tips to ensure your assets are safe and secure in your crypto wallet:
- Check your accounts regularly. It’s imperative that you check your crypto wallet regularly to ensure that your accounts look in order and you can catch suspicious activity quickly. Crypto wallets and digital wallets are unlike the physical one you carry in your pocket or your bag, because when your physical wallet goes missing, you’re likely to notice it quickly. “Phone, keys, wallet” is a mantra most of us sing before walking out the door. Plus, everyone knows the immediate steps to take when a physical wallet goes missing: retrace your steps, put a hold on credit and debit cards, file for a new driver’s license. If you think something is amiss with your wallet, cancel any credit cards linked to your account, change your password immediately and set up two-factor authentication if you haven’t already.
- Set up two-factor authentication. Speaking of login security, always make sure you enable two-factor authentication. It is one of the best ways to deter a thief. If your device has biometric authentication, that’s even better. This means that only a scan of your face, voice, or fingerprint will open your accounts.
- Know how to identify crypto wallet scams. Watch out for phishers who may be persistent in trying to gain access to your cryptocurrency accounts. If anyone by email, text, phone, or snail mail asks for your private key, ignore the correspondence and go on high alert. Never share your private key with anyone! Phishing attempts often use fear or excitement to trick people into divulging personal information, so don’t fall for messages masquerading as contests or as a crypto company that needs your private key to restore your accounts.
Explore Crypto Safely and Confidently
Cryptocurrency value is reaching galactic heights like the spaceships depicted in prime-time ads. Don’t feel pressured to hop aboard the crypto rocket, but if you do decide to jump on, make sure you do your research carefully and make the best decisions for your crypto goals.