With the recent rally and media attention, lots of new people joining the Bitcoin community.
A lot are asking:
I'm new to Bitcoin, how do I keep my bitcoins secure?
and if they aren't that's the first thing you should teach them.
Use a desktop or mobile wallet (Electrum or Mycelium) to spend bitcoins (be sure to write down your recovery seed and store it like a paper wallet). To receive and store them, use offline paper wallets. As soon as a paper wallet exceeds some amount (50mXBC for instance), put it in storage and start a new one. If you are spending and your online wallet runs dry, break open a paper wallet to complete the transaction, any leftover coins will remain on the online wallet. NOTE: with "online wallet" I mean wallets like Electrum and Mycelium, not web wallets like Coinbase or the Blockchain.info wallet. Someone posted instructions for paper wallets on bitcointalk:
Do your own research before risking your coins following what someone told you.
Do not use web wallets.
EDIT: Brain Wallets (memorizing a passphrase that is hashed to produce keys and addresses) are highly controversial in the bitcoin community. The proper way to use them is to choose the passphrase uniformly and at random from a large set (at least 2^128). Security improvements include: Adding salt (something unique but trivial to remember, like your full name, phone number, or email address) to the passphrase to prevent hackers from attacking everyone at once. Using key stretching WarpWallet is an algorithm that derives keys from a passphrase using a difficult, memory-intensive algorithm, this makes them much harder to hack.
To generate multiple wallets from one passphrase, you can attach an index to it (append a number to the passphrase).
The main advantage of brain wallets is that there is no physical wallet to steal or confiscate, and plausible deniability of having bitcoin. Disadvantages include difficulty of remembering the passphrase (if you forget it, the coins are gone), possibility of theft (there are hackers constantly monitoring addresses created from weak passphrases, and they steal coins immediately), and the fact that in the unfortunate event of your death, your family would not be able to recover your coins. If you decide to use them, they can be used in place of the paper wallets in the first paragraph.
The wallet holds the most valuable component of the bitcoin network, your private key. When you go to Bitcoin.org, there are several choices. A HD wallet (Hierarchical Deterministic) is more future proof.
Wallet Feature Caveats Example
Mobile Convenience Trust? Mycelium
Online Backing of co Trust? Coinbase
Hardware Self contained Update your own firmware Trezor
Desktop Total control Your responsibility Bitcoin Core
In Mastering Bitcoin, the private key is compared to your PIN (while the bank account number would be your public key). For HD wallets, the private key is more specifically referred to as the seed or root seed.
Using the analogy, how do you protect your PIN? (considering it is 64 alphanumeric digits)
To protect your private key, there is a way to ensure it isn't visible to the bitcoin network. This is accomplished by using a paper wallet. The paper wallet is like the hardware wallet at the extreme, with all the electronics removed. The recommended practice is to receive payments in one or more transactions, but spend in one single transaction and starting a new paper wallet.
The manual steps:
Go to Blockchain.info, input your address, and check the activity. This is similar to how you might inspect your receipts from a store, scanning your monthly credit card statement, or balancing your checkbook. You are watching your financial accounts to catch mistakes, fraudulent activity, and dispute charges.
I think this link here is useful: https://bitcoin.org/en/choose-your-wallet
It shows the bulk of wallets available and if you click on it, it shows a brief summary.
For a general basic user wanting to send and receive, I would think that all of those wallet options are about the same. Of course they all have slight differences that anyone can further research on.
It is very important to secure and back up your bitcoin wallet. If you can’t follow this you could lose your bitcoin.Here are the eight easy to do tips to safeguard your bitcoins from losing or falling into the wrong hand: Eight ways to keep your bitcoin safe from wrong hands