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I've heard many times that you are supposed to write down a "recovery seed phrase" (a series of English dictionary words) on a piece of paper and store that securely so that you can recover your coins when you inevitably lose access to your wallet.dat.

But doesn't this defy all logic? If this phrase alone can recover the wallet.dat (which feels like magic to me, but I'll accept it as the truth), what happens if:

  1. There is a fire and it burns your coins with the paper?
  2. A burglar steals the paper and takes your coins?
  3. The government seizes the paper and takes your coins?

Even if you say "I'll buy one of those fireproof metal plates where you put in the seed phrase with the little metal letters", that only protects against the first hazard.

And even if you put the piece of paper (or metal plate) inside a fireproof safe, that only stops (at best) number 1 and 2. The government will not be scared to force-open the safe or make you do it under gunpoint, and there's your recovery phrase.

And if you put your coins on a hardware wallet and secure that, and still store your seed phrase in your computer, then somebody could grab that remotely through one of the numerous security holes that computers/OSes/software have today, restore the the wallet and take your coins before you ever know.

It seems that storing the recovery phrase ONLY protects against your own clumsiness and hardware dying, but not against all the other serious threats.

I've spent so long thinking about every possible method to keep my Bitcoins safe, but I just can't find a single method which I'm not myself able to quickly poke huge holes through...

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    Sure, for every backup scheme there exists a disaster which defeats it. Nothing is 100% effective. Writing down and storing the phrase mitigates some common risks, at the costs of increasing some others which are less common. If you don't think it's worth the tradeoffs, you can come up with something that fits your risk profile better. But you do have to actually evaluate those risks and their severity, rather than insisting on eliminating every single risk that you can imagine. Jun 16 at 18:08
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Bitcoin's motto "Be your own bank" requires it that everyone takes responsibility over their coins. Bitcoin wasn't designed as an infallible asset. It instead aims to be something between a payment system (like SWIFT) and easily transportable gold.

If you think banks are safer than your home for money (that is, you don't want to take responsibility) banks are a better option for you.

What might make Bitcoin better for you could be an encrypted mnemonic seed system. There is no proposal, famous enough to make me aware of. It's definitely technically possible, and easy enough for Bitcoin techies to implement on their own.

The government seizes the paper and takes your coins?

Check out brain wallet. Who said that you needed a physical backup?

Though I would, instead, use a cascade of multiple hashing algorithms that I have chosen and memorized with their order, along with a passphrase that I have chosen. This requires less memorization.

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  • I truly hope that nothing whatsoever about my question indicates that I would trust a "bank" for one nanosecond, because that's completely incorrect. The concept of "brainwallets" fascinates and disturbs me. I would never be able to memorize that, not even if my life directly depended on it.
    – M. Bartol
    Jan 17 at 13:41
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    @M.Bartol I wrote "you" as "one", so don't take it personally :) In general it seems backup encryption solves the most of your problems.
    – MCCCS
    Jan 17 at 14:34

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