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What is a seed? Can anyone guess it? What are the chances of this happening?
When you make the great choice to leave the exchanges, you will first need to download a wallet (Wasabi, Electrum, Samourai, etc.).
Essentially, these wallets will generate “seed”. That is to say 12 words (or 24 words depending on the wallets) chosen from a list of 2048 English words.
As long as you don’t lose this seed, you can always access your bitcoins again. You have to write it on metal (there are plenty of solutions like cryptosteel) and bury it in your garden.
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For someone to be in charge of your bitcoins, they will need to know these 12 words in the correct order. Is this possible? Yes. Is this likely? No.
Twelve words chosen from the same list of 2048 words means there are 204812 possible combinations.
That is 5,444,517,870,735,015,415,413,993,718,908,291,383,296 combinations. In other words, 5444 billion billion combinations.
It is indeed less since the twelfth seed word is calculated from the previous eleven words. So the real number is 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 combinations.
If you could make 1000 billion guesses per second, with a billion different computers, it would take over 10 billion years to figure that out. Almost the age of the universe.
To give you an idea, the probability of getting a hundred heads or tails in a row is one in 1,267,650,600,228,230,000,000,000,000,000.
So it’s 268 million times harder for an attacker to find your seed than hitting a hundred stacks in a row.
Yes, but there is more than one seed…
Definitely. So the probability of getting any seed is higher than what we just calculated.
Let’s imagine that everyone has a wallet. That makes us eight billion seeds. We therefore have to divide the 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 possible combinations by eight billion.
The probability of finding a seed there is one in 42,535,295,865,117,307,932,921,825,928.
A billion computers capable of testing 1000 billion combinations per second would take 1.3 years. This is less than the age of the universe, but the probability remains zero.
Today, with a billion bitcoin addresses, we can assume that there are perhaps something like 50 million seeds.
[En effet, toutes les adresses générées par un wallet dérivent de clés privées dérivant elles-mêmes de la seed unique du wallet. Nous y reviendrons.]
So, we have to divide the 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 possible combinations by 50 million.
The probability of getting a seed today is one in 6,805,647,338,418,769,269,267,492,148,635. That is 215 years if we take our example of computers.
We could also say that the probability of an existing seed spawning is one in 6,805,647,338,418,769,269,267,492,148,635.
Then luck would be at the end of someone else’s BTC…
What is the seed used for?
The seed is the kernel from which a private key wallet is created. And it is from these private keys that the public keys are then generated from which the famous bitcoin “addresses” are derived.
You have to understand that there are no bitcoins in a wallet. The latter are just private keys to move the bitcoins they belong to.
Bitcoins are strictly speaking UTXO. Each node in the Bitcoin network currently maintains a list of approximately 80 million UTXOs. UTXO are fractions of bitcoin linked to a public key, itself linked to a private key.
Each transaction (sending UTXOs) requires a valid private key (or some other if the transaction contains several UTXOs). The public key is comparable to a bank account number and the private key to a bank card PIN code.
In a bitcoin transaction, the recipient’s public key is represented by the bitcoin “address”. This address comes directly from the public key. Once the transaction is done, only the person with the private key corresponding to the address in question will control the bitcoins.
Public key cryptography
There are two main families of cryptographic algorithms:
-Symmetric algorithms, also known as secret key (one key)
-Asymmetric algorithms, also known as public key (private key and public key)
Asymmetric cryptography is at the heart of how bitcoin transactions work. This is the place to dig if you want to better understand the concepts of private keys / public key etc.
The first major public cryptographic system was the RSA system, named after the initials of its inventors Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Len Adleman. It was first presented in 1977 in the journal Mathematical Chronicles American Science.
The difficulty of factoring large premiums multiplied together is at its heart. Here is a nice article if you are interested.
Bitcoin’s private and public key system uses asymmetric cryptography based on elliptic curves. Did you like this article? You will probably like this one on bitcoin mining.
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Journalist reporting on the Bitcoin revolution. My papers deal with bitcoin through geopolitical, economic and libertarian prisms.