Crypto Security How-tos

How to back up a Seed Phrase.

There are many ways to back up a seed phrase. Familiarize yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of each.

A seed phrase is a sequence of words that a cryptocurrency wallet uses to access your cryptocurrency holdings. Securely backing up your seed phrase is a very important step, because knowledge of the seed phrase effectively serves as ownership of funds.

Often, cryptocurrency wallet documentation offers limited advice about best practices to securely back up your seed phrase. A common recommendation made by wallet providers is to write down your seed phrase on paper and then store it in a safe place, but in itself, this is not sufficient protection.

What criteria make a seed phrase backup secure?

To be considered secure, a seed phrase backup should meet the following 3 criteria:

  • Physical security

Where will your seed phrase backup be kept? The location where the seed phrase is stored is very important, and a seed phrase written on a physical medium like paper is hard to secure. When picking a location, consider who has access to the location. Your seed phrase backup should be stored in a secure location, accessible by only you. Physical security also implies that you will not lose or forget its location - so don't hide it so well that you forget how to find it again.

  • Data security

Data security is usually accomplished via a locked safe or encryption. This serves the purpose of protecting your seed phrase if bad actors find it. As long as a bad actor does not have the key to the safe or the encryption key, your seed phrase and your crypto will remain secure.

  • Passes the "test of time"

The test of time introduces two potential threats: gradual natural decay, and the risk of destruction via disaster - like fire or flooding. Consider the risks that arise over time when formulating a backup plan that will protect your seed phrase. For example, a paper backup that is not secured in a fireproof, waterproof safe is vulnerable to both natural decay from the elements and destruction via disaster. Electronic media degrades over time, and writing can fade.

1. Crypto Steel.

A highly secure way to back up your seed phrase is by permanently affixing the words to indestructable stainless steel or titanium metal plates. (Steel is more commonly used.) This approach passes the test of time, and if your house burns to the ground, your seed phrase will survive.

A few companies offer ready-made steel plates, where all you have to do is input your seed phrase onto the steel card by engraving or stamping the card with provided tools, or by sliding tiles into locking slots. If you are handy, you could even make a steel plate backup yourself.

Backing up to a steel plate is great, and avoids many of the risks of backing up to paper - but like any other physical medium, you must prevent unauthorized people from accessing the plate. Keep it in a safe place.

This method is primarily subject to the risk of physical security.

2. Back up to Digital Vault.

Vault12 is a decentralized Digital Vault that offers a very high level of security in a user-friendly mobile app. To back up your seed phrase in your Digital Vault, simply open your vault, select "Add Asset," and enter your seed phrase. In addition to your seed phrase, you can store any digital asset.

Using Vault12, your seed phrase will be encrypted, then split up into encrypted shards, and distributed to your chosen network of Guardians. Your network of Guardians can be made up of multiple devices under your control, or a network of people that you trust. This forms a mesh network of encrypted storage.

The advantages of backing up your seed phrase with Vault12 are portability, complete privacy, the ability to self-manage your backup, and redundancy - if you lose your device, you do not lose access to your seed phrase.

This solution meets all three criteria for secure backup.

3. Encrypted local drive or USB.

Storing your seed phrase on a locally-stored encrypted drive offers a high level of data security since it ensures that only you have access to your seed phrase, but does not offer a very high level of protection against other risks.

Encrypting data is the digital equivalent of storing data in a physical safe. When you encrypt a local drive that holds your seed phrase, a key or password will be needed to regain access to it (depending on what tool you choose to perform the encryption). Do not store the encrypted drive and the encryption key together, and do not lose the key/password!

This option offers flexibility in the choices available for the physical drive, and the method used to encrypt its contents. Not all encryption is created equal - always make sure that you choose a standards-based and strong encryption protocol.

For example, you could password-protect your encrypted local drive that holds your seed phrase, and back up the drive's encryption password somewhere like Vault12. However, with this kind of backup strategy, when the encrypted drive physical media fails, your safely-secured password that would decrypt that failed drive would not reunite you with your cryptocurrency seed phrase. Be careful with complex backup solutions.

This method holds some risk of each of the three criteria of secure backup.

4. Cloud storage.

If you choose to store your seed phrase on physical media, it could be secure, but if you don't carry it with you everywhere (which would come with its own risks), you will be out of luck if you need it while away from home. Cloud storage gives you a much more accessible option. However, putting your unencrypted seed phrase on a Cloud drive is absolutely not secure. You must encrypt the seed phrase first - that way, even if someone is able to access the file on the drive, it cannot be used.

The most significant risks related to cloud storage of an encrypted seed phrase are related to the loss or unintended disclosure of the encryption password (data security).

5. Brain Wallet.

This is by far the riskiest form of backing up your seed phrase. If you forget your seed phrase, you have to rely on your memory to retrieve it. When relying on human memory, there is a high likelihood over time that even you will be locked out from accessing your seed phrase. The benefit is that the process is completely offline (at least until Elon Musk is able to hack the human brain). Proceed with extreme caution.

If you plan to go down this route, it is a good idea to use a mnenomic of some sort, like a poem or a song where each word in your seed phrase represents the first line of the poem or song. This can help with memorization.

If you have a photographic memory, and you have never forgotten anything in your entire life, you could think of using your brain to backup your seed phrase. To do this, simply memorize your seed phrase. Of course, there is still a risk that you will someday suffer a brain injury, mental illness, or form of dementia that would cause you to lose your memory of your seed phrase.

This method has such a high level of risk from the "test of time" criterion that it must be stated twice - proceed with extreme caution.

6. Paper.

The most common method of backing up your seed phrase is using paper. Guidance provided with many wallets counsel you to write your seed phrase on a piece of paper, however paper alone is not a secure method. If you really want to use paper, it is necessary to take extra safety precautions. The paper your seed phrase is written on must be stored in a locked safe, at the very least.

This method holds some risk of each of the three criteria of secure backup.

Crypto Security How-tos

How to back up a Seed Phrase.

There are many ways to back up a seed phrase. Familiarize yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of each.