Singlesig vs. Multisig: Bitcoin Self-custody Approaches In contrast

If you wish to take away custodial risk out of your bitcoin holdings, you have to take self-custody. Bitcoin custody is decided by whoever has the keys to manage the bitcoin—should you aren’t holding the keys to your bitcoin, then another person is. Because the saying goes, not your keys, not your cash.

As soon as somebody decides that they wish to maintain their bitcoin in self-custody, the following query turns into methods to do it. Most individuals uncover early on that hardware wallets are the most secure way to make use of bitcoin keys. Nevertheless, the choices don’t finish with selecting a hardware wallet; you may as well select between singlesig, multisig, and some different applied sciences that decide what’s required to spend your bitcoin. On this article we are going to check out these choices and evaluate them with each other.

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Singlesignature describes a pockets construction the place just one personal key’s required to log out on spending bitcoin. It’s the oldest and most elementary technique of holding bitcoin. For these causes, over 70% of the overall bitcoin provide is presently held on this method.

Regardless of being pretty straightforward to arrange and use, many individuals have discovered that singlesig doesn’t present an ample stage of consolation. With just one key, there’ll at all times be a single level of failure that may result in misplaced funds. For instance, in case your singlesig key turns into misplaced, then you’ll not have entry to your bitcoin. Or, in case your key falls into the fallacious palms, a thief can log out on transferring your bitcoin to their very own pockets.

It’s essential to keep in mind that a bitcoin personal key’s merely randomly-generated secret info. The knowledge might be generated by an offline software comparable to a {hardware} pockets, but it surely must also be saved bodily, as a seed phrase. This may imply conserving a set of 12 or 24 phrases safe and personal.

Even for people who find themselves fairly cautious and arranged, essential objects can turn out to be misplaced resulting from errors or uncontrollable circumstances. If the misplaced merchandise occurs to be the one key to your bitcoin wealth, that will be catastrophic. Naturally, individuals are motivated to pursue methods that can assist guarantee this by no means occurs. Let’s discover among the standard approaches!

Earlier than we get to multisig, it’s value looking at among the strategies individuals use to change singlesig preparations. Among the methods individuals attempt to enhance their singlesig safety contain improvised methods, whereas others contain standardized technological instruments.

Improvised singlesig modifications

With out studying about further applied sciences, somebody who holds bitcoin in a singlesig pockets would possibly consider easy methods that seem to supply safety from shedding funds. Examples embrace making copies of the seed phrase, splitting the seed phrase into separate items, encoding the seed phrase, or creating a number of singlesig wallets to distribute wealth. These methods all include trade-offs that customers might initially fail to acknowledge. We’ll now briefly cowl them in additional element.

Seed phrase copying

Making copies of a seed phrase is one technique individuals use to assist keep away from shedding entry to their bitcoin in a singlesig pockets. Doing this could present additional safety towards pure disasters or misplacement. By storing a number of copies of a seed phrase in a number of completely different areas, one location may undergo surprising destruction with out you shedding entry to your seed phrase info.

A {hardware} pockets with two copies of its seed phrase backup.

Alternatively, a big draw back to this strategy ought to be thought of. With an in any other case fundamental singlesig association, the seed phrase is the one merchandise somebody wants with a purpose to uncover your pockets stability and take away bitcoin out of your pockets. In different phrases, if a dishonest individual finds any one in all your seed phrase copies, they might steal bitcoin from you. Subsequently, storing your seed phrase in a number of areas can enhance the possibility of this occurring.

Seed phrase splitting

As a result of seed phrases usually exist as 12 or 24 phrases, some customers will assume to separate up the glossary into sections and retailer them individually. This follows the logic that if a thief managed to amass lower than the total glossary, they might be unable to steal the bitcoin.

A {hardware} pockets with its seed phrase backup break up into a number of items.

Nevertheless, out of all of the concepts coated on this article, this one is probably the most problematic. The theft prevention logic is flawed—if a thief managed to discover a portion of your seed phrase, they could possibly be considerably nearer to with the ability to guess the remaining phrases and steal from you. In addition to failing to supply the meant stage of safety, this strategy can even make it tougher (if not unimaginable) for you because the person to entry your bitcoin if any one of many seed phrase sections turns into misplaced.

Seed phrase encoding

Some singlesig customers will assume to encode their seed phrase, with the concept that if a thief finds the ensuing info, they are going to be unable to decode it and procure the unique seed phrase to steal the bitcoin. There are various doable routes to aim this, together with utilizing a secret components to change the phrases, or hiding your seed phrase inside a bigger set of phrases.

A bitcoin {hardware} pockets with its seed phrase backup and related customized encoding.

The extra difficult the encoding technique is, the much less likelihood there will probably be for a thief to reverse-engineer entry to the bitcoin. However it is a double-edged sword, as a result of a fancy encoding technique can even enhance the probabilities of making a mistake, or forgetting methods to decode the ensuing materials your self. In different phrases, it provides a brand new avenue for shedding entry to your bitcoin.

A number of singlesig wallets

It’s well known knowledge to keep away from “placing all of your eggs in a single basket.” For those who maintain all your bitcoin in a single singlesig pockets, then the ever-present threat of loss or theft could possibly be a troublesome tablet to swallow. Because of this, some individuals determine to carry parts of their bitcoin amongst a number of completely different singlesig wallets.

Two {hardware} wallets with their related seed phrase backups.

The draw back to this technique is that it provides complexity and creates further delicate objects to maintain monitor of. Whereas splitting your bitcoin throughout wallets can take away single factors of failure for the complete stability, it truly creates extra single factors of failure for substantial parts of your wealth. For instance, should you create 4 singlesig wallets and unfold out 25% of your bitcoin in every one, you’ll have decreased the possibility of shedding 100% of your bitcoin, however you’ll have additionally elevated the possibility of shedding 25% of your bitcoin, within the occasion that any one of many 4 wallets turns into inaccessible or compromised. As we are going to quickly see within the upcoming sections of this text, there are strategies to take away single factors of failure on your complete bitcoin stability with out introducing this challenge.

Standardized singlesig modifications

In addition to among the makeshift approaches listed above, there are additionally a number of standardized instruments accessible to assist handle sure dangers with singlesig wallets. These embrace BIP 39 passphrases, Seed XOR, and Shamir’s secret sharing. There are trade-offs to contemplate with every of those choices as properly.

BIP 39 passphrases

Everytime you generate a bitcoin key, you could be requested if you wish to add a passphrase, or it’s possible you’ll discover the choice to do that within the pockets settings. Passphrases are a further set of characters added to the seed phrase (much like a thirteenth or twenty fifth phrase) which can be delicate to capitalization and might embrace numbers or particular characters. They had been launched as an ordinary choice alongside seed phrases in 2013 as part of BIP39. If a key’s constructed with a passphrase, then the passphrase will at all times be required to recreate the important thing and spend funds.

If a key features a passphrase that’s saved individually from the seed phrase, the result’s much like seed phrase splitting. For somebody to entry the bitcoin, each elements could be required, which provides resistance to theft. A passphrase can truly obtain this with out the identical safety dangers as seed phrase splitting, and it additionally leaves the choice open for a decoy pockets (a lesser quantity of funds protected by the seed phrase alone, permitting you to plausibly deny that you’ve got further funds that may be found with a passphrase).

A {hardware} pockets and its related seed phrase, plus a BIP39 passphrase.

Alternatively, passphrases additionally create one other vital element that could possibly be misplaced, inflicting you to completely lose entry to your bitcoin. For those who retailer a passphrase in writing, after which it turns into misplaced or destroyed, your seed phrase won’t be sufficient to regain entry to your funds. You’d additionally face the same state of affairs should you tried to memorize your passphrase after which find yourself forgetting it. Notice that easy, easy-to-remember passphrases are weak and ineffective as a result of they could possibly be guessed by an attacker. It’s best to make use of a robust passphrase as an alternative, however doing this and making an attempt to recollect it is without doubt one of the commonest ways in which individuals lose bitcoin in self custody.

Seed XOR

Coinkite, the producers behind the Coldcard {hardware} pockets, have launched one other answer known as Seed XOR. By utilizing some mathematical magic, Seed XOR permits you to take your seed phrase and break up it into a number of distinctive 12 or 24 phrase seed phrases that will all should be recombined with a purpose to reproduce the unique seed phrase. By storing the brand new seed phrases individually, this creates one other type of seed phrase splitting with out the safety dangers talked about within the improvised setup. It additionally supplies the choice for decoy wallets, as a result of every ensuing seed phrase element may be used as a key for a brand new singlesig pockets with a smaller quantity of funds.

A {hardware} pockets with its seed phrase backup break up into a number of components utilizing Seed XOR.

Whereas Seed XOR performance is constructed into Coldcards as an choice, the maths required to carry out the splitting or the recombination can be achieved on paper with no Coldcard machine. Nevertheless, remember the fact that Seed XOR accommodates the same disadvantage to what we’ve coated in earlier sections. Whereas providing resistance to theft, it will increase the possibility of shedding entry to your bitcoin, as a result of if any one of many newly produced seed phrases turns into misplaced, you’ll be unable to recreate your authentic key and spend out of the unique pockets. Subsequent, we are going to examine a few applied sciences that may keep away from this challenge.

Shamir’s secret sharing

In 1979, famend cryptographer Adi Shamir formulated a secret sharing algorithm generally known as Shamir’s secret sharing (SSS). It really works by taking secret info (which could possibly be a bitcoin personal key) and utilizing it to provide a number of new items of data, typically known as “shards” or “shares”. The shares are ineffective on their very own and should be mixed to breed the unique secret. What makes SSS particular, and completely different from one thing like Seed XOR, is that it may be structured in order that solely a portion of the shares are wanted to provide the key, fairly than all of them. For instance, a person may create a 2-of-3 quorum, the place three distinctive shares exist however any two of them could possibly be introduced collectively to recreate the key.

This means may be very useful, as a result of it could enable for theft resistance much like among the beforehand mentioned approaches, however with out growing the chance of loss—the truth is, it could lower it! Within the 2-of-3 quorum instance, a thief who finds one of many SSS shares to a bitcoin key will be unable to entry the funds within the pockets. In the meantime, if one of many shares is misplaced or destroyed, the pockets proprietor can nonetheless get better their bitcoin with the remaining two shares.

A {hardware} pockets with its seed phrase break up into a number of components with Shamir’s Secret Share.

The creators of the Trezor {hardware} pockets, Satoshi Labs, launched an ordinary for utilizing SSS whereas making a bitcoin key. It’s known as the “Shamir backup,” and the main points can be found in SLIP 39. It exists as an choice whereas establishing a Trezor Mannequin T, and if this selection is chosen, the machine will produce the person’s desired quorum of shares, every expressed as 20 phrases. These units of 20 phrases can’t be used as a seed phrase for a decoy pockets (like with Seed XOR), and shouldn’t be mixed with different phrases with a purpose to try this, as a result of SLIP 39 makes use of its personal particular glossary.

A notable weak spot of SSS is that when the required variety of shares are used to reassemble the bitcoin key, maybe to spend funds out of the singlesig pockets, a short lived single level of failure happens. Everything of the important thing should exist in a single place on the time of the signature, which could possibly be an opportune window for exploitation by an attacker. That is an inescapable truth for singlesig, it doesn’t matter what modifications are used. Multisig, nonetheless, can keep away from this challenge and take away all single factors of failure on your bitcoin custody.


Lastly we now have arrived at multisignature, which isn’t a singlesig modification like we’ve coated up thus far, however a basically completely different construction for holding bitcoin.

As we described in our multisig guide, a multisig pockets is created with a number of distinctive keys. The variety of keys concerned is decided by the pockets creator, in addition to the quantity of these keys which can be required to log out on spending bitcoin out of the pockets. These numbers are expressed as a quorum, comparable to 2-of-3, which might imply that there are three keys and two of them should present signatures to spend bitcoin.

Multisig provides a lot better safety than singlesig by eliminating single factors of failure—defending your bitcoin from loss and theft. Whereas not all multisig quorums provide these protections, setups like 2-of-3, which is the one choice Unchained provides, sit in a candy spot for addressing each of those classes adequately for most individuals and businesses.

A multisig vault with a person holding two keys and a collaborative custody accomplice holding one.

Whereas multisig quorums could be much like SSS quorums, there is a crucial distinction. If a transaction is created to spend bitcoin out of a multisig pockets, every key can signal independently, at a unique time and place. In different phrases, though a 2-of-3 multisig pockets requires two keys to log out on a withdrawal, these keys by no means should be co-located. In truth, the keys don’t even should be introduced collectively when the pockets is first being created, which isn’t true for SSS. That is nice from a safety perspective, and can also be a way more handy construction for a bunch of people that wish to handle a bitcoin treasury with completely different members holding completely different keys.

Commerce-offs: Inconvenience and costs

Multisig supplies strong safety on your bitcoin, but it surely comes with the trade-off of lesser comfort. Multisig makes it far tougher for an attacker to spend your bitcoin, however that comes at the price of comfort for the end-user as properly.

Transactions involving multisig have also historically cost more in mining charges than transactions involving singlesig (on common). Nevertheless, now that the Taproot soft-fork has been activated, this truth might start to alter. With new applied sciences using Taproot and elevated Taproot adoption, multisig transactions may have the identical price construction as singlesig transactions.

DIY vs. collaborative custody

As a result of multisig is extra difficult than a fundamental singlesig pockets to arrange and use, a big draw back to making an attempt multisig by yourself is the dearth of dependable technical help. As we defined in our article covering the basics on this topic, the pockets proprietor may have extra keys to maintain monitor of, and the main points about how the pockets was configured can also be essential to save lots of (within the type of a pockets descriptor or wallet configuration file). If somebody is new to bitcoin, managing these additional items can really feel overwhelming.

Multisig collaborative custody companies like Unchained can present the training and help wanted for anybody to really feel comfy and assured with multisig. A collaborative custody vault might be precisely known as a type of self-custody, as a result of you’re the just one who has full energy to spend the bitcoin. This strategy will usually contain sharing some info along with your collaborative accomplice about your bitcoin, but it surely comes with the good thing about a less complicated setup by decreasing the variety of objects you should hold monitor of your self, assist with pockets upkeep, support for passing bitcoin on to beneficiaries, and easy accessibility to monetary providers like trading and loans.

What about 3-of-5?

One essential resolution in establishing a multisig vault is choosing the right quorum, and 2-of-3 and 3-of-5 are by far probably the most broadly used for securing bitcoin in chilly storage. Whereas it could be helpful in sure circumstances, 3-of-5 introduces extra complexity than mandatory for most. It could present additional redundancy, however this level might be repeated to advocate for 4-of-7, after which 5-of-9, and so forth to infinity. We made a graphic to assist visualize this.

Comparability chart

Now that we now have coated all the well-known constructions for holding bitcoin, let’s place them in a chart to match their options!

*This is dependent upon whether or not or not you might have wiped your {hardware} pockets along with splitting up your bodily seed phrase with SSS or Seed XOR.

**Weak passphrases have an opportunity of being guessed, however sturdy passphrases are simpler to overlook your self.

***Decoy wallets are technically doable with nonstandard derivation paths or different strategies, however will not be beneficial as a result of it could introduce new dangers.

****With elevated Taproot adoption, multisig may have the identical price construction as singlesig.

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Ought to I take advantage of singlesig or multisig?

As proven within the chart above, there are tradeoffs between all the completely different constructions for holding bitcoin in self-custody, and this implies there may be not a universally appropriate strategy. With a purpose to decide whether or not singlesig or multisig is the higher mannequin for you, you have to first determine upon your preferences and priorities.

Singlesig and multisig are inclined to excel in reverse areas, and this essential commentary begs the query: why not use each? Relatively than viewing these fashions as opponents, they are often good compliments to at least one one other! It’s affordable to think about using a multisig pockets for high-security, long-term bitcoin financial savings and concurrently utilizing a singlesig pockets to carry smaller quantities for handy transactions (maybe a cellular pockets that additionally helps lightning).

For those who’re excited about the benefits of collaborative custody multisig, which retains you in full management over your bitcoin custody whereas additionally providing technical help, streamlined inheritance, and easy accessibility to different providers, make sure to book a free consultation with the Unchained workforce!

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Unchained Capital is the official US Collaborative Custody accomplice of Bitcoin Journal and an integral sponsor of associated content material printed via Bitcoin Journal. For extra info on providers provided, custody merchandise, and the connection between Unchained and Bitcoin Journal, please go to our website.

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