Written by Logan

On March 22, 2021

What are cryptocurrency Private Keys?

Let’s start by saying we will never ask you for your private keys. We’ll explain what this means later on, but we just wanted to say right at the beginning that we will never ask you for your private keys.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

It can be a little hard to comprehend just how important – and just how private – your private key should be in cryptocurrency. It’s not like the key to your house, and it’s not like the password to your account; it’s more like a series of letters and numbers that allows someone to take all of your cryptocurrency instantly from anywhere in the world.

Sounds scary, right? For the newcomer to cryptocurrency, this can be a nerve-wracking concept. That’s why people throughout this industry repeat themselves over and over again: never share your private keys with anyone, ever.

So what’s the point of a private key? Do you have one? If so, how can you see it? To understand this, let’s break this down to its basics and build from there.

The point of a private key

Let’s say you have your cryptocurrency stored in a software wallet on your phone, like Proton Wallet. This is a fun and easy-to-use way to swap, stake, and send your cryptocurrency all while on the go. One day, you take the case off your phone to clean the screen. The phone slips from your hand, hits the ground at just the right angle, and you hear a sickening crack. The phone is shattered, won’t turn on, and your cryptocurrency is gone.

Or is it? If you saved your private key, your cryptocurrency is perfectly safe. Just get a new phone, download Proton Wallet, and input your private key into the new wallet. Your cryptocurrency will instantly port into this new account, all safe and sound.

The utility of a private key goes beyond dropping your phone. Now you don’t need to fear losing a hardware wallet, accidentally deleting a software wallet, or any other unfortunate circumstance. By inputting your private key, your crypto will always appear wherever it’s accepted. You can easily imagine just how useful this is, but you should also keep in mind that it works in the opposite direction, too; if a hacker gets a copy of your private key, it’s game over. That’s why you must keep it private.

Do I have a private key?

The answer is: it depends. If you use Metal Pay, you’re using a custodial cryptocurrency app; this means that we keep track of your crypto, and it’s stored in our accounts with our own private keys. Given that our staff is filled with security experts, we have an excellent track record of keeping your crypto safe.

If you’re using the Proton Wallet, that’s a noncustodial cryptocurrency app; this means that you keep track of your crypto. We do not know your private key, we cannot access it, and we cannot recover it for you. It’s all on you to keep this safe. Backing up your private key on Proton Wallet is pretty easy – we give a step-by-step guide here.

What should I do with my private keys?

Keep them safe! People throughout the cryptocurrency industry generally agree on the same set of advice:

  • Keep your private keys offline at all times (don’t store it in your email address; maybe don’t even store it on your computer)
  • Don’t print it out, make sure you handwrite it (printing files can store an electronic version, something a hacker might be looking for)
  • Don’t take a photo of it, either (pictures can be leaked!)
  • Don’t type it into a computer or phone (your computer could have a keylogger installed without you knowing)
  • Never share it with support staff (we will never ask you for your private key; if someone does and claims to be working with us, run away!)
  • Don’t send your private keys to someone on social media (especially us!)
  • Store multiple copies, in real life, somewhere safe (family, friends, whoever you would trust with your life)

It might seem intimidating at first, but you’ll slowly get the hang of it the more you work with your private keys. A good idea is to practice recovering a tiny amount of crypto on a different wallet a few times; make sure you know how to do this while the stakes are low, and slowly build up your confidence from there.

Cryptocurrency gives you absolute control over your finances. While this may feel scary at first, we’re confident that you can learn the ropes and start to feel empowered in no time.

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