Getting Started with Crypto Currencies
The financial industry is changing as people embrace Bitcoin and crypto currencies, yet many people spend little or no effort in preparing their personal computers prior to embarking on their crypto journey. An unprotected computer can leave someone open to hackers, scammers, or any number of other methods to separate crypto coins from their legitimate owners. The aim of this article is to raise awareness of the risks of purchasing, storing and trading crypto currencies, and to provide information about a number of security measures that the everyday PC user can implement in order to protect their personal information and secure their coins.
The information presented in this article is particularly targeted at users of Windows computers. The methods will vary for users of Linux and other operating systems.
The methods described herein are designed as a reference only, and readers are encouraged to stay informed of new risks as they are identified and ensure their own security measures are adequate. In general terms though, it is expected that the acceptable level of security will necessarily increase as the amount of currency held on a computer increases. A desktop wallet holding ten dollars' worth of crypto currency hardly justifies the purchase of expensive Premium firewall software, whereas a portfolio that contains several thousand dollars' worth of coins is definitely worth protecting with that type of product. In all cases it is up to the user to choose a level of security and convenience that suits their particular needs.
One of the first steps recommended to anyone new to crypto currency is to make a backup of the files on their computer. In an ideal world one would have a PC dedicated to cryptos, but for many people that is just not an option. At the very least, make a backup copy of your important files either on a portable drive or burn onto cds or dvds. You never know when some weird event or even just a malfunction could stop your computer from working, so make a backup and be prepared for the unexpected.
It is also recommended to keep your PC's operating system up to date, but of course, that is also up to the user's own preference.
One of the big risks associated with the crypto currency industry is that of hackers, who attempt to hack into people's computers through various means and steal the 'private keys' for coin wallets as well as passwords and other information that might enable them to withdraw someones coins. Installing a dependable Firewall program is an important step to mitigating this type of threat. While there is a firewall built into most Windows operating systems, it might not always be enough to keep hackers at bay. Look for a firewall program from a trusted website. Free firewalls are usually adequate as a starting point but the user should consider upgrading to a premium product as their crypto portfolio grows.
Another serious threat that exists within the Bitcoin and crypto currency industry is that of malware, viruses and trojans. These are nasty pieces of software that may be attached to otherwise legitimate files such as pictures, videos, even music files, and that attempt to send a copy of your important information back over the internet to a hacker or other person who is interested in stealing your coins. It is therefore important to have a strong anti-virus program installed on your PC in order to scan any susceptible files prior to opening them. As with firewall software, free products can be perfectly adequate for protecting computers that hold a modest amount of crypto currency, but again, each person needs to be aware of their own exposure to risk and adjust their protection as their portfolio grows.
Some readers may question why any of these protection methods are required. The reason is fairly simple: it is because there are some people around the world who want to earn a living from stealing crypto currency from other people's computers. If one's computer is exposed then it might be fairly simple for an experienced hacker to gain accees to their private keys and withdraw all their coins. On the other hand, the owner of a well protected PC is less likely to lose coins to this kind of online theif. Hackers and theives tend to look for easy targets.
Another important consideration for PC owners is choosing a secure browsing environment for their internet usage. Extensions and addons exist for most popular web browsers that add additional security to the basic package. Using a 'high' security setting for a web browser is obviously more secure than using a lower setting, although there is often a tradeoff in terms of functionality and convenience.
Some browsers offer a 'privacy mode', which can help to protect personal information, and others offer a VPN option that hides data about a person's location. An even higher level of security can be achieved by using purpose built secure browsers such as TOR browser or Avast's SafeZone Browser.
Once someone has implemented these security measures on their computer, they are less susceptible to attack by hackers and scammers, but additional threats remain. Crypto users need to always think about security whenever opening emails, conducting trades or dealing with Bitcoin and crypto currency.
Security is of the utmost importance when installing and using wallets for crypto coins. It is recommended to always use the official wallet for any coin wherever possible, and make use of the password and encryption systems built into them. Using wallets that are not password protected is never as safe as using wallets that are password protected.
Good wallets allow the user to copy, save and print out the public and private keys as well as the recovery phrase. Burning these to a disk or writing them into a physical book allows the user to recover the coins in the event of a computer malfunction. Stories abound on the internet of people who failed to keep a record of their wallet keys and who later lost coins worth a fortune when their computer died or was destroyed. Wise users take steps to mitigate the risk of losses wherever possible.
Hardware failures are commonplace with home computers, so long term storage of any significant amount of crypto curency on a computer is not advised. A better idea is to set up a 'paper wallet' or invest in a good quality hardware wallet, either of which can be further protected by being stored in a fireproof safe.
The use of paper and hardware wallets is generally less convenient but more secure than storing coins in a desktop wallet. Again it often comes down to each user's preference.
It is important to mention the use of crypto exchanges for the storage of coins. Exchanges are designed to hold coins for the purpose of trading, and are not intended as long term storage. It is not unknown for exchanges to be hacked or even to go out of business, and many crypto investors have lost coins to both of these type of incidents. Of course, it can be very convenient to keep a reasonable amount of coins in an exchange where they can be readily traded at short notice. Each user should be aware of the risks and determine a level of convenience and exposure that they are satisfied with.
Another important security measure that is recommended for crypto users and investors is that of 'Two Factor Authenication' or '2FA'. Two factor authentication is a securty service offered by Google whereby a user is required to enter a security code from a smartphone app when accessing online accounts at various websites. Alternatively, there is an extension available for the Chrome browser that serves the same purpose. 2FA is compulsory on a growing number of websites including many crypto exchanges.
As with any industry related to currency and money, security is a major consideration in the Bitcoin world. Investors and other crypto users can be the target of any number of malicious threats, scams and online hackers. Protecting one's personal computer is therefore of the utmost importance when working in the crypto space. This article has highlighted some potential threats to coin security, and recommended a number of measures that can be implemented to mitigate them. By using these methods and keeping security in mind, crypto users and Bitcoin investors can work more confidently and keep their coins and personal information safe.