Crypto Security How-to's
How to back up your seed phrase to a local device (like USB).
It is tempting to just back up your seed phrase on a USB stick and drop it in a drawer. Here is why not to do that.
January 24 2024
Storing your mnemonic seed words on an internet-connected hard drive is not recommended under any circumstances, but some people wonder whether it is sensible to copy their seed words to electronic storage that they keep offline. It sounds simple - and indeed, it is simple to initially perform, but it is very hard to do it in a way that will pass the "test of time."
TL;DR (concentrated takeaways)
Local media drives are subject to the same risks of theft and natural disaster as other backup forms like paper.
Local media drives will fail after some time, and the amount of time is not always predictable.
Encrypting data on a local drive requires thoughtful planning for not only how to store the data (hopefully, even encrypted, it would not be stored on an internet-connected computer), but how to store the decryption password.
Vault12 is far more reliable than relying on local drives.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of backing up to USB?
- Less risk of electronic theft than keeping the backup on an online drive
- Increased risk of loss by physical misplacement or theft
- Increased risk of hardware failure
- Hard to protect from natural disasters
What are the location-related risks of backing up to USB?
If not encrypted, data stored on a portable drive plugged into a compromised computer can be accessed or viewed by an unauthorized person without even leaving any indication that it has been viewed. (This is sometimes called "the Evil Maid Attack.")
Even if encrypted, physical backup media can still be misplaced or stolen. These risks can be greatly reduced by keeping backup media in a secure safe - but electronic media is more delicate, and more difficult to protect in a safe than paper is.
The internet is filled with stories of people who experienced loss or failure of their USB and hard drives - as simple as forgetting your PIN/password. Try not to join them.
How long does electronic media last?
All disk drives eventually fail, and some types fail faster than others.
Physical drives vary in their robustness. USB flash memory drives and SD cards have high failure rates - they are not designed to be used as long-term storage. They are susceptible to damage if improperly ejected during use, and connector pins can rust. They can be accidentally reformatted and re-used if not clearly labeled and separately stored. External hard disk drives (HDDs) are vulnerable to mechanical failures, especially if accidentally dropped. Portable solid-state drives (SDDs) are more robust, but they, too, will predictably fail before many years pass. Backups can provide some insurance against failure, but every backup copy requires a separate plan to secure it, and age affects all backup copies.
Natural disasters present their own risks to locally-stored media, some of which can be prevented by storing an external drive in a waterproof, specialized data vault safe. It should be noted that standard fireproof safes do not stay cool enough in fires to protect electronic media.
What are some common challenges to protecting your sensitive data?
USB storage for sensitive data also presents some risks that are common with those related to backing up your seed phrase to the Cloud, namely:
- Any computers used to type, store, or display the mnemonic phrase could have been compromised with malware, leading to theft of your phrase.
- Protection can be added by encrypting your mnemonic phrase, but that requires handling it on a computer, and increases complexity and difficulty. You still need to keep track of and secure the password for decrypting.
- Protection can be added by storing your mnemonic phrase in a password manager, but that requires handling it on a computer, and also increases complexity and difficulty. You still need to keep track of and secure the password for the password manager.
- A locally-installed password manager software carries the additional risk of corrupted data - a risk which can be countered by backing it up, but this creates additional copies to be protected.
Vault12 offers a safer way.
Ultimately, a comprehensive, disaster-proof backup plan for storing electronic data on local media is extremely complex, and not practical for most people. The Vault12 platform offers a much better way.
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