If you don’t hold it, you don’t own it

If you know anyone who invests in precious metals you have probably heard the phrase “if you don’t hold it, you don’t own it”.

This old adage comes from the risks you are exposed to through use of services that practice things like fractional reserve banking and non-segregated storage of assets. Though personally think these practices can result in significant value for the depositor one can not reasonably argue that they do not come with risks.

This is particularly interesting for Bitcoin; not for political or dogmatic reasons but ones of practicality. Today Bitcoin is in many countries considered “property”, that it has a market capitalization of over 5 billion as of today and that the top 500 Bitcoin addresses control over 30% of all Bitcoin it seems there is quite a lot that these high-net worth users can learn from people who have invested significantly in precious metals.

With that in mind I thought it was worth talking about a set of guidelines people can consider when answering the question of “how should I hold my bitcoin”

Invest proportionally to the risk; if you have forty million dollars worth of Bitcoin you should use different strategies than someone with twenty thousand dollars in Bitcoin additionally the your ability financially to survive the loss must be considered.

Plan for the worst; as they say, “locks keep honest people honest” and “to error is human” as such we must have ready plans on how to handle attacks and compromises when and if they occur. 

Trust but verify; verify the claims and that the technology and service providers you use provide and regularly check on your assets and ensure they are still accesible.

Understand your risks; it’s near impossible to devise a security strategy that will effectively secure anything without having a solid understanding of the risks you are exposed to.

Don’t rely on technology alone; while technology hold promise in securing these assets we in many cases the path of least resistance is to just take physical control of them.

Learn from the past, design for the future; while we all may enjoy pointing out the ridiculousness of the TSA’s reactive strategy of threat analysis understanding attacks that have come before is key to understanding how to physically secure your assets.

Diversification, Diversification, Diversification; whatever approaches you take don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You do not want a failure of a single mechanism to result in the loss of your stored assets.

You can’t hack what you can’t find; though security through obscurity isn’t exactly a solid security design strategy it’s origins come from physical security where it has much more value. Keeping your location and control mechanisms confidential makes it harder for your attacker.

With that in mind you have a few choices to base your strategy on these include:

  • Residential quality home safe
  • Commercial quality safe
  • Bank safe deposit box
  • Bitcoin vaulting service
  • Private vault
  • Depository facilities

If you’re leveraging secret sharing chances are you will use several of these in your final solution. This helps quite a bit in that when it comes to physical storage using a third-party your biggest risk is that facility.

Of course even when you distribute your shares to multiple facilities you have the question is how you secure the secrets that are used to protect those shares.

By ensuring both the shares and the secrets that protect them are geographically distributed and under the control framework of different third-party facilities you reduce your risks significantly.

I am hopeful that within the next few years we will also see increased adoption of P2SH and hardware security modules / smart cards designed around cold wallet scenarios; these have the potential to raise the bar even further but do not replace the need for proper physical storage.

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