10 min. read • Published 2020-08-20
Cloud wallets exist online and the keys are usually stored in a distant server run by a third party. Cloud-based wallets tend to have a more user-friendly interface but you will be trusting a third party with your private keys, which makes your funds more susceptible to theft. Some examples of this wallet type are Coinbase, Blockchain and Lumi Wallet. Most cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, have their own native wallets. Some offer additional security features such as offline storage (Coinbase and Xapo).
With your private keys stored on a server, you have to trust the host’s security measures and also trust the host won’t disappear with your money or close down and deny you access.
Software wallets can be installed directly on your computer, giving you private control of your keys. Most have relatively easy configuration and are free. The disadvantage is you are in charge of securing your keys. Software wallets also require greater security precautions. If your computer is hacked or stolen, the thief can get a copy of your wallet and your bitcoin.
While you can download the original software Bitcoin Core protocol (which stores a ledger of all transactions since 2009 and takes up a lot of space), most wallets in use today are “light” wallets, or SPV (Simplified Payment Verification) wallets, which do not download the entire ledger but sync to it.
Electrum is a well-known SPV desktop bitcoin wallet that also offers “cold storage” (a totally offline option for additional security). Exodus can track multiple assets with a sophisticated user interface. Some (such as Jaxx Liberty) can hold a wide range of digital assets, and some (such as Copay) offer the possibility of shared accounts.
Before downloading any app, please confirm you are downloading a legitimate copy of a real wallet. Some shady programmers create clones of various crypto websites and offer downloads for free, leading to the possibility of a hack.
Mobile wallets are available as apps for your smartphone, especially useful if you want to pay for something in bitcoin in a shop or if you want to buy, sell or send while on the move. All of the online wallets and most of the desktop ones mentioned above have mobile versions, while others – such as Abra, Edge and Bread – were created with mobile in mind. Remember, many online wallets will store your keys on the phone itself, leading to the possibility of losing your bitcoin if you lose your phone. Always keep a backup of your keys on a different device and print out your seed phrase.
Hardware wallets are small devices that connect to the web only to enact bitcoin transactions. They are more secure because they are generally offline and therefore not hackable. They can be stolen or lost, however, along with the bitcoins that belong to the stored private keys, so it’s recommended that you backup your keys. Some large investors keep their hardware wallets in secure locations such as bank vaults. Trezor, Keepkey and Ledger are notable examples.
Paper wallets are perhaps the simplest of all the wallets. Paper wallets are pieces of paper that contain the private and public keys of a bitcoin address. Ideal for the long-term storage of bitcoin (away from fire and water, of course) or for the giving of bitcoin as a gift, these wallets are more secure in that they’re not connected to a network. They are, however, easier to lose.
With services such as WalletGenerator, you can easily create a new address and print the wallet on your printer. When you’re ready to top up your paper wallet you simply send some bitcoin to that address and then store it safely. Whatever option you go for, be sure to back up everything and only tell your nearest and dearest where your backups are stored.
(Note: Specific businesses mentioned here are not the only options available, and should not be taken as an official recommendation. Further, companies could go out of business and be replaced with more nefarious owners. Always protect your keys.)