Just the way we keep cash or cards in a physical wallet, bitcoins are also stored in a wallet - a digital wallet. The digital wallet can be hardware-based or web-based. The wallet can also reside on a mobile device, on a computer desktop, or kept safe by printing the private keys and addresses used for access on paper.
But how safe are any of these digital wallets? The answer to this depends on how the user manages the wallet. Every wallet contains a set of private keys without which the bitcoin owner cannot access the currency. The biggest danger in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies security is the individual user perhaps losing the private key or having the private key stolen. Without the private key, the user will never see her bitcoins again. Besides losing the private key, a user can also lose her bitcoin by computer malfunctions (crashing a hard drive), by hacking, or by physically losing a computer where the digital wallet resides.
Below, we explain you some of the best ways to store your bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies safely.
Desktop wallets are those that are not connected to the Internet; they are also referred to as "cold storage" methods. A desktop wallet offers a number of advantages over an online wallet. While online wallets are easily accessed from anywhere in the world, they are also more vulnerable to potential hacking. Desktop wallets, on the other hand, are accessed only via your private computer, with personal security keys stored just on that machine. Thus, exposure of your security key online is dramatically reduced. Nonetheless, desktop wallets are still susceptible to hacks if your machine gets infected with malware designed to root out keys and steal Bitcoins (or other cryptocurrencies).
More secure than a desktop wallet is a hardware wallet. These wallets are bits of hardware, external devices like USB sticks which you can carry around on your person. An added benefit of a hardware wallet is the complete anonymity with which you can transact. There is no personal information linked to the hardware, so no identifying data which could be leaked. Hardware wallets are resilient to malware, and if you happen to lose the wallet you'll be able to recover the funds using a seed phrase. On the other hand, if you lose the hardware wallet, there is no other way of recovering your cryptocurrency.
Other Security Precautions
Backup your entire cryptocurrency wallet early and often. In case of a computer failure, a history of regular backups may be the only way to recover the currency in the digital wallet. Make sure to backup all the wallet.dat files and then store the backup at multiple secure locations (like on a USB, on the hard drive, and on CDs). Not only this, set a strong password on the backup.
Keep your software up to date. A wallet running on non-updated bitcoin software can be a soft target for hackers. The latest version of wallet software will have a better security system in place thereby increasing the safety of your bitcoins. If your software is updated with the latest security fixes and protocol, you may evade a big crisis because of the enhanced security of the wallet. Consistently update your mobile device or computer operating systems and software to make your bitcoins safer.
The concept of a multi-signature has gained some popularity; it involves an approval from a number of people (say 3 to 5) for a transaction to take place. Thus this limits the threat of theft as a single controller or server cannot carry out the transactions (i.e., sending bitcoins to an address or withdrawing bitcoins). The people who can transact are decided in the beginning and when one of them wants to spend or send bitcoins, they require others in the group to approve the transaction.