While cryptos may be entirely digital, there is still an important need to prove they are yours. That's done in a unique way involving private keys. To handle that private key, Crypto users use what is known as a crypto wallet to secure, store, trade from and carry their cryptocurrencies around with them - all powered by private and public keys, through cryptography.
Private-Key Cryptography predates crypto assets and we will let you read all about it on Wikipedia if you want to know more. If you don't, just know it's a battle-tested method of proving something is yours and yours only.
There are many different types of crypto wallets, each offering something a little different to the others in terms of security, usability, privacy and features. It is, for this reason, important to understand the basics of crypto wallets, as well as the differences to decide which is the best option for you.
Crypto wallets become your gateway to the digital assets on a specific blockchain and they allow you to view, interact and sign in several ways. Depending on your wallet of choice, you will have different levels of security and functionality - and this all begins with deciding if you want to use custodial, or non-custodial wallets.
From there, wallets can come in all forms; from slips of paper, to hardware devices that look like flash drives. Some wallets are entirely digital and attached to exchanges and other services making for more seamless uses, while others provide one use, but do so very well.
Private Key Cryptography
On a broad level, your cryptocurrencies are yours because you hold the private key that allows for them to be transferred. The private key, used to sign, needs to be kept super secure, or anyone could just spend all your money. That's what the wallet is for: storing the private key.
In actuality, your coins are not stored in the wallet, but stored on the Blockchain and signed by your private key letting the entire network know that your wallet - and by extension, you - own the specified coins. This private key is what gives you the authority to move or transfer coins to other wallets and addresses.
When a person sends you cryptocurrency, they are essentially signing off ownership of the coins to your wallet's address - this address that receives transactions is known as a public key and is similar to a bank account number. To be able to access coins that are sent to your public key - often referred to as a "crypto wallet" - the private key must match the public key.
So if Alfred wants to send Bethany some Bitcoin, he goes into his wallet and uses his private key to sign a transaction that has, as destination, Bethany's public key. And what he wanted to sign is now assigned over to Bethany. As long as she has her private key, she will then be able to transfer those further.
When someone sends you crypto, there is no actual exchange of coins, the transaction is made as a change in the ongoing, distributed blockchain's "big accounting book" of who owns what, just like when you do bank transfers it's not cash moving around but just writing in the bank's big books.
Now that you understand the basics, know that there are a number of different wallets - places where you can keep your private key and from which you can sign transactions - that are available to users that all use the same encryption principles, but that offer different functionalities.
As explained, the term "wallet" denotes a potential for storage of digital tokens, but in reality, these wallets are portals to the cryptocurrency space. The only thing they hold is a private key.
Choosing the right wallet for you - Custodial vs. Non-Custodial
The first decision that needs to be made is whether or not you will use a custodial wallet, or a non-custodial one. As the name suggests, in a custodial wallet, someone else has the responsibility to hold your private keys on your behalf. In other words, you're trusting a third party to secure your funds and return them if you want to trade or send them somewhere else - much like a traditional bank.
These custodial wallets offer less personal responsibility, and rather ask for trust in the custodian that holds your funds.
With a non-custodial wallet, you have sole control of your private keys, which in turn control your cryptocurrency and prove the funds are yours. This means there is no need for a third-party trusted intermediary but it also means that you are solely responsible for not losing your keys and requires that you take your own precautions to protect your funds. If you have a lot of funds and you are going to manage your private keys yourself, a good strategy would probably be to use more than one wallet. The same way you don't (or at least, shoudn't) keep all your cash in one place.
Different Types of Wallets
Within these two main categories of wallets; custodial and non-custodial, there are different types that offer a range of functionalities. When it comes to choosing the right wallet for you, there are none that are better than others, it is much more about personal preference.
A rather unique wallet style, to begin with, are Viewers - there are wallets that do not matter if your primary storage or custodial or non-custodial Viewer wallets are actually interfaces that you use to keep track and aware of your cryptocurrency funds.
These are not exactly wallets, per se, but rather a way to easily view your funds without having to use your private keys. These are particularly useful with cold storage, or offline wallets, allowing a user to view their funds without having to bring their private key online where it can be vulnerable to attacks.
However, these wallets do not offer any more functionality than viewing as the signing of transactions is still done where the private keys are, some might however facilitate that signing.
Good examples are Zerion, deBank or ApeBoard. OSOM also offers you to aggregate Bitcoin wallets, Ethereum wallets and exchange accounts to view all your assets in one place.
The first wallet to look at is a basic non-custodial wallet. These wallets are one where your private keys are handed to you either through web applications (such as on Metamask or My Ether Wallet) or on mobile applications, (such as on TrustWallet)
These non-custodial wallets maintain your funds "online", because the private key is on a device connected to the internet. This comes with certain security concerns. They also leave you in full control, and responsibility of your keys and thus your funds. Using a wallet like this offers good functionality and the ability to easily transact as it is constantly online, but security is at risk as a malicious actor can find ways of getting your private keys and thus have access to your funds. This is usually achieved through social engineering as opposed to actual "hacking". Indeed, most of those wallets employ very good technology to keep your funds secure, but we, mere humans, are very subject to manipulation.
Smart Contract Wallet
Within the blockchain space, smart contracts have seen a huge growth in their possible use cases to a point where they can be used for wallet storage. A smart contract wallet is one where tokens are held on a smart contract controlled by a private-public key pair.
This offers some interesting functionality in that there is logic for recovery should you lose your private key and you can incorporate limits and different executionals - such as daily transaction limits, locking and more while still remaining non-custodial.
Argent is one such popular smart contract wallet that allows for users to define one or more "Guardians" that can lock your wallet, approve a wallet recovery or approve a transfer that exceeds your daily limit.
These additional programmable functionalities allow for smart contract wallets to have a lot more possibility and to be very customisable, but it still allows for entire self-custody with no need to trust any other party, only the smart contract logic.
Hardware and Paper Wallets
The biggest threat to any cryptocurrency is online malicious actors or hackers. While the likes of Bitcoin's blockchain cannot easily be hacked, nor the private-public key encryption, it is still possible to accidentally divulge your private key online to hackers.
This is where offline non-custodial wallets come in to prove the ultimate source of cybersecurity.
A hardware wallet is the most common form of offline non-custodial wallet and it is often a small physical device, like a flash drive, that can be plugged into a computer or can be kep airgapped and interact with QR codes. Ledger is one of the most well-known hardware wallets on the market. Hardware wallets also allow for better functionality than a paper wallet (more on that soon), as the offline private key can interact online once plugged in.
Most hardware wallets have screens, which add another layer of security, as they can be used to verify and display important wallet details. For instance, a screen can generate a recovery phrase and confirm the amount and address of the payment you wish to make.
A paper wallet is simply a piece of paper that contains a public address for receiving Bitcoin and a private key, which allows you to spend or transfer Bitcoin stored in that address. Paper wallets are often printed in the form of QR-codes so that you can quickly scan them and add the keys to a software wallet, or a wallet app, to make a transaction. The quality of the paper you print it on and how well you safeguard it is going to be very important, though, and since the advent of hardware wallets, few people recommend that solution.
Again, this is entirely offline, but the concern with both a paper wallet and a hardware wallet is that they are physical and can be lost, damaged, or stolen.
An interesting next step in the evolution is the Ngrave Zero, which has a hardware wallet and a paper-like metal recovery plate to go with it. We can't wait for them to ship!
Custodial - Delegate your Key Management
For many people, their gateway to crypto being a wallet means that their first wallet is often a custodial one. Custodial wallets offer a lot more convenience, more functionality and ease of use but do limit freedoms and control. There are two main types - Exchange wallets, and custodian wallets.
It would be fair to say that the majority of cryptocurrency wallets are probably exchange-based ones. People flock to major exchanges to do their crypto business, and having an account directly linked to an exchange means there is a seamless way to send, spend and transact coins while also storing them.
The likes of Coinbase and Binance however are hot pots for hackers and there have been some high-profile hacks where people have lost money by taking their coin on an exchange. More so, your money and your actions with crypto are subject to the exchange. If these services go down, which does happen, you won't have access to your wallet and your funds.
That's like us: someone you trust to hold your keys but that is not a full blown exchange with candlesticks.
At OSOM, your funds are held in a custodian wallet, however, there is an added advantage as while we hold these funds, they are also working for you and not simply being stored. If you put your fund into OSOM, and utilize the Crypto Autopilot, your portfolio is actively managed by an algorithm.
So, other than just storing your money, OSOM allows for your money to grow in value, it is integrated with other services like DeFi Earn, and typical exchange services. This is becoming a more popular way to utilize cryptocurrencies, especially with the emergence of DeFi and the taking of coins to earn yield.
Custodial wallets don't typically allow you to interact with the blockchain directly (outside of sending and receiving) so you couldn't use Aave on your own with your OSOM Ethereum wallet. But they do give you other services, such as, for us, DeFi Earn and Autopilot.