Your Keys, Your Crypto : The Essential Guide to Crypto Storage and Private Keys

What Are Wallets and Private Keys?

Any crypto wallet has two key parts: a public key and a private key. The public key is like your sort code/account number – it's what you share with others so they can send you crypto. It's completely safe to share publicly.

The private key, on the other hand, is like the login to your online banking. It's used to approve any transactions, like sending crypto to someone else. This private key is very important and must never be shared with anyone.

Whoever has the private key to a wallet is in charge of the coins inside. That's why in crypto, holding your own private key means you truly own your money.

Different ways of storing your crypto, like on an exchange, in an online 'hot' wallet, or in a hardware 'cold' wallet, handle this private key in different ways. How this key is stored and managed is what decides how safe your wallet is. So, understanding how the private key works and where it's kept is crucial in ensuring your crypto is well-protected.

Main Ways of Storing Crypto

When it comes to storing your cryptocurrency, you have three main options:

Storing your cryptocurrency on an exchange is like keeping your money in a bank. The bank (exchange) has control over your funds. It's handy for quick access and trading, but there are risks. Since the exchange controls the private key, not you, they have ultimate control over your digital currency. If the exchange faces issues or decides to freeze your assets, you might not be able to access your funds and you could even lose them completely.


  • Coinbase
  • Binance
  • Kraken

Using an online hot wallet is like carrying a credit card. It's convenient for everyday transactions and easy to access since it's connected to the internet. However, just like a credit card, there's a risk. Your private key, which is like your credit card information, gets exposed to the internet, making it vulnerable to hacking and theft.


  • MetaMask
  • Trust Wallet
  • Wallet

A hardware wallet is like a safe in your house. It's the most secure option because it keeps your private key completely offline. It's a bit like having cash or valuables securely locked away. The key never touches the internet, so it's safe from online hackers. However, just like a safe, you need to keep track of it. If you lose it or forget how to access it (like losing a safe's key), you could lose access to your crypto.


  • Ledger Nano
  • Trezor Model T
  • BitBox02

How is Your Private Key Treated in Each Storage Method?

On an Exchange

Here, you don't actually own your private key; the exchange does. It's similar to depositing money in a bank – technically, the bank holds your money, and you trust them to keep it safe. However, if the exchange decides to freeze your account or becomes compromised, your assets are at risk.

In an Online 'Hot' Wallet

Your private key is created when you set up your wallet and is exposed to the internet. It's much like inputting your credit card details on an online store. There's an element of trust that your information won't be stolen or hacked, but the risk is always there.

In a Hardware Wallet

The private key is generated offline and never leaves the device. This is comparable to having physical cash or gold in a safe at your home. The only way someone could access it is through physical theft, making it the most secure form of cryptocurrency storage.

The Risks of Crypto Storage

Each method of storing crypto has its pros and cons. Understand the risks and how to mitigate them to safeguard yourself against crypto mishaps.


Cyberattacks aimed at stealing digital assets.

  • Methods Affected: Exchanges, Online Hot Wallets
  • Best Practices: Use wallets with robust security features, enable two-factor authentication, and regularly update software.
Phishing Scams

Fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive information like private keys.

  • Affected: All methods, particularly Online Hot Wallets
  • Best Practices: Be vigilant about suspicious links, verify sources, and never share private keys.
Forgotten Backup Phrase

Losing access to your wallet due to a forgotten or lost backup phrase.

  • Affected: Hardware Wallets, some Online Hot Wallets
  • Best Practices: Store backup phrases securely in multiple locations, consider using a password manager.
Physical Theft or Damage

Loss or damage to hardware wallets.

  • Affected: Hardware Wallets
  • Best Practices: Keep hardware wallets in a safe location, use tamper-evident packaging, and have a secure backup.
Software Flaws

Vulnerabilities in the wallet's software.

  • Affected: Online Hot Wallets, some Hardware Wallets
  • Best Practices: Regularly update wallet software, research wallet providers for their security track record.

Malicious software designed to infiltrate and damage your device or steal information.

  • Affected: Online Hot Wallets, Exchanges
  • Best Practices: Install reputable antivirus software, avoid downloading unknown applications, regularly scan your devices.
Insufficient User Knowledge

Errors due to a lack of understanding of how crypto storage works.

  • Affected: All methods
  • Best Practices: Educate yourself about cryptocurrency storage, use resources provided by wallet providers, start with small amounts.
Exchange or Wallet Service Shutdown

Loss of access to assets if the service provider shuts down.

  • Affected: Exchanges, Online Hot Wallets
  • Best Practices: Diversify storage methods, keep a portion of assets in a personal wallet.
Regulatory Actions

Governmental regulations impacting the use of cryptocurrencies.

  • Affected: Exchanges, possibly Online Hot Wallets
  • Best Practices: Stay informed about regulatory changes in your jurisdiction, consider decentralised storage options.
Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

Interception of transactions or data.

  • Affected: Online Hot Wallets, Exchanges
  • Best Practices: Use secure, encrypted internet connections, avoid public Wi-Fi for transactions, monitor transaction details closely.


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