What does digital wallet recovery phrase (Mnemonic | Seed Phrase) contain?
Accessing and controlling a wallet address in the realm of cryptocurrencies is only possible by having its private key. The private key functions similarly to a bank account password in the traditional banking system. Let's take a look at the appearance of an address and its associated private key in the Bitcoin network:
The format of the private key in the Bitcoin network is a 64-bit hexadecimal decimal phrase. This key is randomly generated using encryption algorithms. Having this key is vital for accessing the assets in a wallet and must be stored completely securely and privately. Making even a single mistake in entering this private key is equivalent to losing access to digital assets.
Let's see the appearance of an address and the private key associated with it in the Bitcoin network:
The sensitivity of the private key has led to these characters becoming a major problem for users in the digital currency realm trying to keep their assets secure. To solve this problem, the BIP39 idea was introduced.
BIP39 is actually a Bitcoin Improvement Proposal that was proposed in 2013, which introduced Seed Phrases or wallet recovery phrases.
Features of Seed Phrases
After the introduction of BIP39, accessing a digital currency wallet is no longer limited to having its associated private key. With a Seed Phrase, you can also access the assets in a cryptocurrency wallet. A Seed Phrase is a string of words that is essentially a translation of computer binary language that the user receives when creating a digital wallet.
Creating reminder phrases begins with generating initial entropy. Entropy refers to collecting random information by a computer. In fact, this entropy is a random sequence of bits (zeroes and ones) generated for encryption purposes. More entropy leads to more security.
Similar to the private key, keeping and storing Seed Phrases securely is also crucial. However, the advantage that Seed Phrases have over private keys has led to their preference and popularity over private keys. So much so that many digital currency wallets have completely replaced private keys with this method.
Therefore, to prevent recovery phrases from being hacked, it is important to avoid suspicious and unknown websites and emails, and always carefully check the address of reputable websites. Additionally, using wallets that have two-factor authentication can provide double security for user accounts.
Recovery phrases being the same for all cryptocurrencies
The mechanisms of digital currencies are different, which means that the format of the private key for some cryptocurrencies may differ from others. However, with a special recovery phrase, one can access assets in various blockchain networks. This feature was introduced with BIP44 in 2014.
Different number of words in recovery phrases
According to BIP39 documentation, a recovery phrase can consist of 12, 15, 18, 21, or 24 words. Currently, recovery phrases in some wallets such as the SafePal wallet consist of 12, 18, and 24 words, which are optional. Our recommendation is to always choose the maximum number of words, which is 24, to increase the security of your digital assets in your SafePal wallet.
Limited number of words and the importance of their order in wallet recovery phrases
The list of words used to generate a recovery phrase is not unlimited and is selected from a pool of 2048 words. The order of the words entered for wallet recovery through the recovery phrase is important, as even swapping one word with another can prevent access to the assets.
Assessing the likelihood of recovery phrases being hacked
Losing the security of wallet recovery phrases is equivalent to losing all cryptocurrencies in it. Cybercriminals focus heavily on cryptocurrencies because the chances of tracking them are very low. The main method for hackers to find recovery phrases is through phishing.
Phishing is the act of obtaining sensitive information from users through deception. Users often hand over their information to hackers, assuming them to be an official entity associated with a website, project, platform, or application. One of the tricks hackers use to hack digital wallet recovery phrases is to send emails to users introducing themselves as wallet support. They usually use an email address similar to the original domain. In this email, your digital assets are likely to be declared at risk due to a security breach, and the solution to the problem is sending recovery phrases to the program developer. Another very common method for phishing scams is to develop malware similar to and with the same name as official wallets. The most controversial phishing with this trick was related to the viral spread of a fake version of Atomic Wallet, which led to the theft of digital capital from over a thousand users. Creating an almost identical or even completely similar application with Trust Wallet, Atomic Wallet, or any other popular wallet is another way for hackers in this field. As soon as the software (or rather malware) is installed and your digital currency wallet recovery phrases are entered into it, the words are actually sent to the hacker. The SafePal technical team strongly recommends downloading digital currency wallets only from the official website. Of course, one should also be careful about designing a phishing website similar to the official website of a wallet.
Secure storage of wallet recovery phrases:
• The best way to store your recovery phrases is to use a SafePal hardware wallet and keep it in a secure location. SafePal provides metal plates to eliminate the risks associated with paper.
• Your recovery phrase is the key to your digital safe deposit box, so do not share it with anyone. Giving your seed phrase and consequently your private keys to someone else increases the risk of losing all your digital assets.
• Storing recovery phrases online is not recommended; writing them on social networks (such as Telegram's Saved Messages) increases the risk of being hacked. If online storage is your preferred choice, use note-taking apps that do not have internet access. If you used cloud storage (such as Google Drive) for storage, make sure to increase the access level to the contents of this file with a stronger password.
• Writing recovery phrases on paper is the most common choice for users. It is better to make multiple copies and keep them in different secure locations. To increase security, you can also divide wallet recovery phrases into several parts and write each part on a separate piece of paper and keep them apart from each other.
• Set a strong password for your wallet application. If your mobile phone does not have a lock screen, at least put a strong password for the wallet software, as others will be able to see your recovery phrases by accessing the app's settings.
Technical review of how wallet recovery phrases work:
Digital currency wallets extract private keys associated with a recovery phrase using the BIP39 standard. With this key, users can recover their wallets. Various digital currency wallets use the following algorithm to generate a seed phrase:
1. Create a random 128 to 256-bit code.
2. Hash the code once using the SHA256 function, and take the first 4 to 8 bits of the hash as the checksum. The checksum is 4 bits for 128-bit codes, 5 bits for 160-bit codes, 6 bits for 192-bit codes, 7 bits for 224-bit codes, and 8 bits for 256-bit codes.
3. Add the checksum to the end of the code generated in step one.
4. Divide the output of step three into 11-bit sections. For example, if a 128-bit code is generated in step one and a 4-bit checksum is added in step two, the result of step three is a 132-bit code. This code contains 12 sections of 11 bits each.
5. Each of the 11-bit sections from step four corresponds to one of the 2048 pre-determined words.
6. By combining the words from step five in order, a Seed Phrase or Recovery Phrase is created.
A 128-bit code leads to the creation of a Seed Phrase with 12 words. If the initial code size is 256 bits, taking into account an 8-bit checksum, the result of step three will be a 264-bit code that is divisible into 24 sections of 11 bits each. Each of these 24 sections corresponds to one of the 2048 predetermined words, and the result is a 24-word Recovery Phrase.
How private keys are generated from recovery phrases:
Different digital currencies use different algorithms to generate private keys. However, they all have in common the determination of a random phrase called Seed, which can be generated through internal wallet algorithms or methods such as moving the mouse on the screen. BIP39 uses its own algorithm to determine the Seed. This Seed is generated by using the words obtained from step 6 of the previous section, plus a part called Salt. Salt is also a string of characters, including the word "mnemonic" and an optional password that the user can set when creating the wallet. The Seed generation algorithm based on BIP39 has the following steps:
1. The Salt string is added to the words obtained from step 6 of the previous section.
2. The result of the previous step is passed through the PBKDF2 function 2048 times to produce a 512-bit hash.
Now, with a 512-bit hash, the required Seed is prepared as the initial input for various algorithms that determine the private key for different digital currencies. The wallet then generates the private key or private key associated with each supported currency.
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