Difference between revisions of "Paper wallet"

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A '''paper wallet''' is a way to store Bitcoins that involves printing the Bitcoin addresses and private keys directly on a piece of paper. When done properly, paper wallets are one of the safest ways possible to store Bitcoins.
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[[File:Water-damaged-paper-wallet.jpg|thumb|right|200px|Water damaged paper wallet]]
  
__TOC__
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A '''paper wallet''' is the name given to an obsolete and unsafe method of storing bitcoin which was popular between 2011 and 2016. It works by having a single [[private key]] and bitcoin [[address]], usually generated by a website, being printed out onto paper.
  
A Bitcoin [[private key]] can be represented in several formats, but is typically a string of numbers and letters no more than about 51 characters in length. This is easy to print on paper, and if kept secret, can securely hold an unlimited quantity of Bitcoins.
+
This method has a large number of downsides and should not be used<ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/670zhy/summary_pitfalls_of_paper_wallets/</ref><ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/5pnrjb/mentor_monday_january_23_2017_ask_all_your/dcu36a2/?context=3</ref>.
  
==Producing safe paper wallets==
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For storage of bitcoins, a much better way accomplish what paper wallets do is to use [[seed phrase]]s instead, where the user writes down 12 or 24 random words generated by their wallet.
  
Several tools exist for producing paper wallets, including [[BitAddress.org]], [[BitcoinPaperWallet]], [[vanitygen]], [[LinuxCoin]], and [[Bitcoin Address Utility]].  Paper wallets must be produced securely in order to be safe, because any leak of the private key constitutes the ability for an attacker to steal any present and future balance of the address. Consider the following:
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== Paper wallet flaws ==
* Paper wallets should be produced on a computer not connected to the Internet.
 
* Be aware that malware often allows a remote third party to view your screen and see your keystrokes, and these can compromise the integrity of your paper wallet.  Also consider that antivirus software cannot completely rule out the possibility of malware.  However, using bootable CD's prevents the vast majority of malware from being able to run.  If you can generate a paper wallet with a bootable CD such as [[LinuxCoin]], the likelihood of malware being able to compromise your keys is very low.
 
* The private keys of paper wallets should never be saved to a computer hard drive.  You should also never scan your paper wallet into your computer or type the private keys or save them in e-mail, except at the moment you are redeeming the balance.
 
* If possible, the private key of a paper wallet should be kept hidden, for example by folding the paper to hide the private key so that a photograph or photocopy of the wallet will not reveal or replicate the private key.
 
* A web-based paper wallet generator should be written so that all of the generation happens on your computer, not the web server.  After you load the paper wallet generating website in your web browser, you should disconnect from the internet, and observe that the paper wallet generator continues to function.  Afterward, you should close your browser before reconnecting to the Internet.
 
* A paper wallet generator should use an appropriate source of random numbers (entropy).  This means that the generated addresses aren't predictable.  If the addresses come from a predictable or partially-predictable pattern, someone else who can predict the pattern addresses can steal the balance. Generally, this rules out any "web-based" generator unless you can be sure that both your browser and the JavaScript code are taking advantage of the strongest cryptographic routines available.[http://www.w3.org/TR/WebCryptoAPI/]
 
  
===Printer Security===
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=== Printing is problematic ===
  
Some printers will store the output using storage in which the data can be recovered from the printer's memory or from a hard drive (if the printer has one) and stores its print jobs there. Most larger commercial printers have hard drives but whether or not documents are stored on them will vary based on manufacturer and model. Similarly, some operating system and print drivers will save a cache of printed documents.
+
Paper wallets require using a printer to transfer them to paper. Many printers have a hard drive for internal storage where the paper wallet will be saved. Anybody who reads the file will be able to see the private key and steal the stored bitcoins. Shared printers such as in schools, offices or internet cafes are also usually centrally logged. If the printer is accessed over WiFi then any radio wave listener could also obtain the private keys and steal the money.<ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/6ajwsv/printing_paper_wallet_at_work_office/</ref>
  
==Redeeming Keys==
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[[Seed phrase]]s avoid this problem by having the user transfer the sensitive information to paper without a printer but via their own handwriting.
  
There are various methods for copying the private key data from a paper wallet to other wallets.
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=== Promotes address reuse ===
bitcoind supports an "importprivkey" RPC method for this purpose.
 
Bitcoin-Qt's debug console can also be used in a similar way (see also [[how to import private keys v7+]]).
 
[[BlockChain.info]] and [[Armory]] can also import them directly into wallets.
 
[[MtGox|Mt. Gox]] provides the ability to Add Funds using a private key:
 
the exchange will then create a "sweep" transaction that spends any amount for that paper wallet address so that the amount is added to your account with them; it will also sweep to your account any bitcoins received to that address in the future as well.
 
  
==See Also==
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Paper wallets have just one bitcoin address, so they promote [[address reuse]]. The paper wallet creating websites generally have no warnings against this.
  
* [[Private key]]
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[[Deterministic wallet]]s and [[seed phrase]]s avoids this problem by being able to create a new bitcoin [[address]] for every incoming transaction.
 +
 
 +
=== Encouragment of centralized and outsourced validation ===
 +
 
 +
Despite the name, paper wallets are not actually wallets. They only store the private keys and addresses, and cannot tell users if they have actually received bitcoins and in what quantity.
 +
 
 +
The single bitcoin addresses require the user to have random-access lookups of any address on the blockchain, this requirement pushes users to use centralized third-party blockchain explorer websites. This results in privacy and validation issues, the websites can spy on users and lie to them.
 +
 
 +
A more private solution is to import the private key into bitcoin-qt and rescan. Nobody watching the bitcoin-qt full node from outside will be able to tell which address it's interested in because all the scanning happens locally on disk. Unfortunately rescanning is not scalable and so is very slow; therefore most users are pushed towards using public blockchain explorers or Electrum servers. These centralized services can spy on the user and learn exactly how many bitcoins they have and where they spend them. An address database created from all bitcoin addresses is nearly 20 GB in size at of October 2018 and takes a long time to build up, so very few people will have this kind of thing available locally for the few occasions when they redeem paper wallets. Almost all wallet software today especially smartphone wallets relies on centralized lookups when redeeming paper wallets.
 +
 
 +
[[Deterministic wallet]]s and [[seed phrase]]s partly avoid this problem by having a sequence of bitcoin addresses which can be sequentially scanned. Wallets using that tech don't inherently need any extra databases and are compatible with pruning.
 +
 
 +
See Also: [[Full_node#Why_should_you_use_a_full_node_wallet]]
 +
 
 +
=== Raw private keys are dangerous ===
 +
 
 +
Dealing with raw private keys is very unintuative and has lead to loss of funds on a number of occasions.<ref>https://bitcoin.stackexchange.com/questions/29948/why-doc-says-importing-private-keys-is-so-dangerous</ref><ref>https://bitcoin.stackexchange.com/questions/18619/why-so-many-warnings-about-importing-private-keys</ref>. Paper wallets encourage these dangers by only having one private key and exposing it to the user.
 +
 
 +
One example is the mistake of destroy a paper wallet after it's imported into a [[deterministic wallet]], thinking that it has become a part of the [[deterministic wallet]] and it's safe to destroy because the master seed of the [[deterministic wallet]] has been backed up. In reality the private key is not part of the [[deterministic wallet]]. If the paper wallet (the paper) is destroyed and the app is uninstalled, the BTC is gone even if the [[deterministic wallet]] is recovered from its master seed. The unintuative behavour of raw private keys leads to this.
 +
 
 +
Using only fully-featured wallet software is a much better because it only presents with intuative interfaces (like a GUI button to Send) which abstracts all the dangerous details away from the user.
 +
 
 +
=== Change addresses are not handled which leads to screwups ===
 +
 
 +
Users have been known to import the private key into software wallet and then spend part of the funds. They mistakenly believe the remaining funds are still on the paper wallet when in reality they are in a [[change|change address]].<ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1c9xr7/psa_using_paper_wallets_understanding_change/</ref>
 +
 
 +
=== Encouragement of raw transactions ===
 +
 
 +
[[Raw Transactions]] are dangerous, unintuitive and have many times resulted in loss of funds.
 +
 
 +
A notable example of such a costly mistake is the address <code>1Acbo3viCYy1TSZB7m2W1nPPNF4rcAPMC9</code> which seems to have been a paper wallet. The owner appears to have been regularly buying bitcoin between April 2014 and January 2017, before apparently making a mistake with raw transactions and sending ''50 bitcoins'' as miner fees.<ref>See transaction <code>d38bd67153d774a7dab80a055cb52571aa85f6cac8f35f936c4349ca308e6380</code></ref> (worth about $50000 at the contemporary exchange rate).
 +
 
 +
Also note the terrible privacy due to [[Address reuse]] that allows us to get such a complete picture of what happened.
 +
 
 +
=== Low error correction ===
 +
 
 +
[[File:Water-damaged-paper-wallet-privkey.jpg|thumb|right|400px|Water damaged paper wallet [[private key]]]]
 +
 
 +
The private keys is typically printed in rather small font. Sometimes the characters could be mistakenly read for another letter, such as a B versus an 8 or 1 versus l. If even a single character is wrong or mistakenly typed then the entire private key will be invalid. Private keys in WIF format have a checksum but there are no tools for regular users to correct mistakes.
 +
 
 +
QR codes were not designed for secure storage of cryptographic material. QR codes have been damaged and made unscannable by water<ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1sc02w/make_sure_to_secure_your_paperwallet_against/</ref><ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/2ni2fq/reminder_keep_your_paper_wallets_dry_if_you_use/</ref>, crumpling and even folding the paper.
 +
 
 +
As [[seed phrase]]s uses natural language words, they have far more error correction. Words written in bad handwriting can often still be read. If one or two letters are missing the word can often still be read. The [[Seed_phrase#Word_Lists|word list]] from which seed phrase words are drawn from is carefully chosen so that the first four letters of a word is enough to uniquely identify it.
 +
 
 +
=== Inconsistent private key format ===
 +
 
 +
The spending of paper wallets relies on wallet software understanding the private key format. There has been at least one situation where an update to private key formats resulted in a user's funds becoming stuck <ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/8v2lxa/did_i_lose_my_btc_by_sending_to_a_segwit_bc1/</ref>.
 +
 
 +
[[Seed phrase]]s avoid this problem because they are created by the same wallet software which understands how to spend from them.
 +
 
 +
=== Encouragement of obsolete brainwallet style ===
 +
 
 +
Almost all paper wallet websites today also have an interface to the obsolete sha256 brainwallets. These are very insecure and should never be used, yet paper wallet websites do not come with adequate warnings.
 +
 
 +
See also: [[Brainwallet#Obsolete_Brainwallet_Style]]
 +
 
 +
=== Javascript software ===
 +
 
 +
Most paper wallets are created in a website using [[Javascript cryptography]], which is considered unsafe for anything related to bitcoin.
 +
 
 +
=== Browser wallets are bad ===
 +
 
 +
Almost all paper wallets are made by websites, which therefore involves most of the problems associated with [[Browser-based wallet]].<ref>https://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/771c4z/bitaddressorg_beware_of_possible_scam/</ref><ref>https://np.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/a7xaej/paperwallet_being_hacked/</ref>
 +
 
 +
== Redeeming bitcoins and withdrawing funds ==
 +
 
 +
[[File:FirstBitcoinBills.jpg|thumb|right|200px|Casascius holding early paper wallets]]
 +
 
 +
The best way to redeem the bitcoins from a private key is to use the "sweep" feature of certain wallet software. This sends the entire balance of the paper wallet to a [[deterministic wallet]]. Alternatively the private key could be imported and the entire balance sent to an address in the wallet.
 +
 
 +
There are various wallets for doing this:
 +
 
 +
* [[Electrum]] and [[Mycelium]] support sweeping private keys.
 +
* [[Bitcoin Core]] supports the RPC call "importprivkey" for this purpose. See [[How to import private keys in Bitcoin Core 0.7+]]
 +
* [[BlockChain.info]] and [[Armory]] can also import them directly into wallets.
 +
 
 +
== Bitcoin ATMs and paper wallets ==
 +
 
 +
Many bitcoin ATMs use a paper-wallet-like system for delivering bitcoins if the customer doesn't have a bitcoin wallet. The ATMs can print out a private key/address pair onto paper which contain the customer's bitcoins. Ideally the customer would sweep the bitcoins into their own wallet as soon as they can.
  
* [[Securing_your_wallet#Paper_Wallets]]
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== See Also ==
  
 +
* [[Private key]]
 +
* [[Seed phrase]]
 +
* [[Storing bitcoins]]
 
* [[How to import private keys]]
 
* [[How to import private keys]]
 +
* https://bitzuma.com/posts/how-to-spend-a-bitcoin-paper-wallet-in-three-easy-steps/
  
* [http://localbitcoins.blogspot.fi/2012/11/start-your-own-money-press.html Guide to paper wallets]
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==References==
 +
<references />
  
 
[[Category:Security]]
 
[[Category:Security]]
 
[[es:Monedero de papel]]
 

Latest revision as of 02:25, 8 February 2019

Water damaged paper wallet

A paper wallet is the name given to an obsolete and unsafe method of storing bitcoin which was popular between 2011 and 2016. It works by having a single private key and bitcoin address, usually generated by a website, being printed out onto paper.

This method has a large number of downsides and should not be used[1][2].

For storage of bitcoins, a much better way accomplish what paper wallets do is to use seed phrases instead, where the user writes down 12 or 24 random words generated by their wallet.

Paper wallet flaws

Printing is problematic

Paper wallets require using a printer to transfer them to paper. Many printers have a hard drive for internal storage where the paper wallet will be saved. Anybody who reads the file will be able to see the private key and steal the stored bitcoins. Shared printers such as in schools, offices or internet cafes are also usually centrally logged. If the printer is accessed over WiFi then any radio wave listener could also obtain the private keys and steal the money.[3]

Seed phrases avoid this problem by having the user transfer the sensitive information to paper without a printer but via their own handwriting.

Promotes address reuse

Paper wallets have just one bitcoin address, so they promote address reuse. The paper wallet creating websites generally have no warnings against this.

Deterministic wallets and seed phrases avoids this problem by being able to create a new bitcoin address for every incoming transaction.

Encouragment of centralized and outsourced validation

Despite the name, paper wallets are not actually wallets. They only store the private keys and addresses, and cannot tell users if they have actually received bitcoins and in what quantity.

The single bitcoin addresses require the user to have random-access lookups of any address on the blockchain, this requirement pushes users to use centralized third-party blockchain explorer websites. This results in privacy and validation issues, the websites can spy on users and lie to them.

A more private solution is to import the private key into bitcoin-qt and rescan. Nobody watching the bitcoin-qt full node from outside will be able to tell which address it's interested in because all the scanning happens locally on disk. Unfortunately rescanning is not scalable and so is very slow; therefore most users are pushed towards using public blockchain explorers or Electrum servers. These centralized services can spy on the user and learn exactly how many bitcoins they have and where they spend them. An address database created from all bitcoin addresses is nearly 20 GB in size at of October 2018 and takes a long time to build up, so very few people will have this kind of thing available locally for the few occasions when they redeem paper wallets. Almost all wallet software today especially smartphone wallets relies on centralized lookups when redeeming paper wallets.

Deterministic wallets and seed phrases partly avoid this problem by having a sequence of bitcoin addresses which can be sequentially scanned. Wallets using that tech don't inherently need any extra databases and are compatible with pruning.

See Also: Full_node#Why_should_you_use_a_full_node_wallet

Raw private keys are dangerous

Dealing with raw private keys is very unintuative and has lead to loss of funds on a number of occasions.[4][5]. Paper wallets encourage these dangers by only having one private key and exposing it to the user.

One example is the mistake of destroy a paper wallet after it's imported into a deterministic wallet, thinking that it has become a part of the deterministic wallet and it's safe to destroy because the master seed of the deterministic wallet has been backed up. In reality the private key is not part of the deterministic wallet. If the paper wallet (the paper) is destroyed and the app is uninstalled, the BTC is gone even if the deterministic wallet is recovered from its master seed. The unintuative behavour of raw private keys leads to this.

Using only fully-featured wallet software is a much better because it only presents with intuative interfaces (like a GUI button to Send) which abstracts all the dangerous details away from the user.

Change addresses are not handled which leads to screwups

Users have been known to import the private key into software wallet and then spend part of the funds. They mistakenly believe the remaining funds are still on the paper wallet when in reality they are in a change address.[6]

Encouragement of raw transactions

Raw Transactions are dangerous, unintuitive and have many times resulted in loss of funds.

A notable example of such a costly mistake is the address 1Acbo3viCYy1TSZB7m2W1nPPNF4rcAPMC9 which seems to have been a paper wallet. The owner appears to have been regularly buying bitcoin between April 2014 and January 2017, before apparently making a mistake with raw transactions and sending 50 bitcoins as miner fees.[7] (worth about $50000 at the contemporary exchange rate).

Also note the terrible privacy due to Address reuse that allows us to get such a complete picture of what happened.

Low error correction

Water damaged paper wallet private key

The private keys is typically printed in rather small font. Sometimes the characters could be mistakenly read for another letter, such as a B versus an 8 or 1 versus l. If even a single character is wrong or mistakenly typed then the entire private key will be invalid. Private keys in WIF format have a checksum but there are no tools for regular users to correct mistakes.

QR codes were not designed for secure storage of cryptographic material. QR codes have been damaged and made unscannable by water[8][9], crumpling and even folding the paper.

As seed phrases uses natural language words, they have far more error correction. Words written in bad handwriting can often still be read. If one or two letters are missing the word can often still be read. The word list from which seed phrase words are drawn from is carefully chosen so that the first four letters of a word is enough to uniquely identify it.

Inconsistent private key format

The spending of paper wallets relies on wallet software understanding the private key format. There has been at least one situation where an update to private key formats resulted in a user's funds becoming stuck [10].

Seed phrases avoid this problem because they are created by the same wallet software which understands how to spend from them.

Encouragement of obsolete brainwallet style

Almost all paper wallet websites today also have an interface to the obsolete sha256 brainwallets. These are very insecure and should never be used, yet paper wallet websites do not come with adequate warnings.

See also: Brainwallet#Obsolete_Brainwallet_Style

Javascript software

Most paper wallets are created in a website using Javascript cryptography, which is considered unsafe for anything related to bitcoin.

Browser wallets are bad

Almost all paper wallets are made by websites, which therefore involves most of the problems associated with Browser-based wallet.[11][12]

Redeeming bitcoins and withdrawing funds

Casascius holding early paper wallets

The best way to redeem the bitcoins from a private key is to use the "sweep" feature of certain wallet software. This sends the entire balance of the paper wallet to a deterministic wallet. Alternatively the private key could be imported and the entire balance sent to an address in the wallet.

There are various wallets for doing this:

Bitcoin ATMs and paper wallets

Many bitcoin ATMs use a paper-wallet-like system for delivering bitcoins if the customer doesn't have a bitcoin wallet. The ATMs can print out a private key/address pair onto paper which contain the customer's bitcoins. Ideally the customer would sweep the bitcoins into their own wallet as soon as they can.

See Also

References