Thursday, April 25, 2024

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

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If you wish to take away custodial threat out of your bitcoin holdings, it’s essential to take self-custody. Bitcoin custody is set by whoever has the keys to regulate the bitcoin—if you happen to 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 tips on how to do it. Most individuals uncover early on that {hardware} wallets are essentially the most safe means to make use of bitcoin keys. Nevertheless, the choices don’t finish with deciding on a {hardware} pockets; you too can select between singlesig, multisig, and some different applied sciences that decide what’s required to spend your bitcoin. On this article we’ll check out these choices and examine them with each other.

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Singlesignature describes a pockets construction the place just one personal secret’s required to log off on spending bitcoin. It’s the oldest and most elementary technique of holding bitcoin. For these causes, over 70% of the whole 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 satisfactory degree 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 unsuitable fingers, a thief can log off on transferring your bitcoin to their very own pockets.

It’s necessary to keep in mind that a bitcoin personal secret’s merely randomly-generated secret data. The knowledge might be generated by an offline software akin to a {hardware} pockets, nevertheless it also needs to be saved bodily, as a seed phrase. This can imply conserving a set of 12 or 24 phrases safe and personal.

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

Earlier than we get to multisig, it’s value having a look at among the strategies folks use to change singlesig preparations. A few of the methods folks attempt to enhance their singlesig safety contain improvised methods, whereas others contain standardized technological instruments.

Improvised singlesig modifications

With out studying about extra 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 could 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 folks use to assist keep away from shedding entry to their bitcoin in a singlesig pockets. Doing this may present further safety towards pure disasters or misplacement. By storing a number of copies of a seed phrase in a number of totally different areas, one location might undergo sudden destruction with out you shedding entry to your seed phrase data.

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

Alternatively, a major draw back to this method must 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 considered one of your seed phrase copies, they might steal bitcoin from you. Subsequently, storing your seed phrase in a number of areas can improve the prospect of this occurring.

Seed phrase splitting

As a result of seed phrases usually exist as 12 or 24 phrases, some customers will suppose to separate up the thesaurus into sections and retailer them individually. This follows the logic that if a thief managed to amass lower than the complete thesaurus, 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 essentially the most problematic. The theft prevention logic is flawed—if a thief managed to discover a portion of your seed phrase, they might be considerably nearer to having the ability to guess the remaining phrases and steal from you. In addition to failing to supply the meant degree of safety, this method can even make it tougher (if not not possible) for you because the consumer to entry your bitcoin if any one of many seed phrase sections turns into misplaced.

Seed phrase encoding

Some singlesig customers will suppose to encode their seed phrase, with the concept if a thief finds the ensuing data, they are going to be unable to decode it and procure the unique seed phrase to steal the bitcoin. There are numerous doable routes to aim this, together with utilizing a secret system 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 can be for a thief to reverse-engineer entry to the bitcoin. However this can be a double-edged sword, as a result of a fancy encoding technique can even improve the probabilities of making a mistake, or forgetting tips on how 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.” In the event you maintain all your bitcoin in a single singlesig pockets, then the ever-present threat of loss or theft might be a troublesome tablet to swallow. Consequently, some folks resolve to carry parts of their bitcoin amongst a number of totally 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 extra delicate objects to maintain observe of. Whereas splitting your bitcoin throughout wallets can take away single factors of failure for all the stability, it really creates extra single factors of failure for substantial parts of your wealth. For instance, if you happen to create 4 singlesig wallets and unfold out 25% of your bitcoin in every one, you’ll have decreased the prospect of shedding 100% of your bitcoin, however you should have additionally elevated the prospect of shedding 25% of your bitcoin, within the occasion that any one of many 4 wallets turns into inaccessible or compromised. As we’ll quickly see within the upcoming sections of this text, there are strategies to take away single factors of failure in your total bitcoin stability with out introducing this problem.

Standardized singlesig modifications

In addition to among the makeshift approaches listed above, there are additionally a number of standardized instruments obtainable 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 nicely.

BIP 39 passphrases

Everytime you generate a bitcoin key, you is likely to 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 (just like a thirteenth or twenty fifth phrase) which can be delicate to capitalization and might embrace numbers or particular characters. They have been launched as a normal possibility alongside seed phrases in 2013 as part of BIP39. If a secret’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 just like seed phrase splitting. For somebody to entry the bitcoin, each parts can be required, which provides resistance to theft. A passphrase can really 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 extra 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 crucial element that might be misplaced, inflicting you to completely lose entry to your bitcoin. In the event you 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’ll additionally face an identical state of affairs if you happen to 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 might be guessed by an attacker. It’s best to make use of a powerful passphrase as a substitute, however doing this and making an attempt to recollect it is likely one of the commonest ways in which folks 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 means that you can take your seed phrase and break up it into a number of distinctive 12 or 24 phrase seed phrases that may 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 offers 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 elements utilizing Seed XOR.

Whereas Seed XOR performance is constructed into Coldcards as an possibility, the mathematics required to carry out the splitting or the recombination will also be completed on paper and not using a Coldcard system. Nevertheless, needless to say Seed XOR comprises an identical disadvantage to what we’ve coated in earlier sections. Whereas providing resistance to theft, it will increase the prospect of shedding entry to your bitcoin, as a result of if any one of many newly produced seed phrases turns into misplaced, you can be unable to recreate your authentic key and spend out of the unique pockets. Subsequent, we’ll examine a few applied sciences that may keep away from this problem.

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 data (which might be a bitcoin personal key) and utilizing it to supply a number of new items of knowledge, 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 totally 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 supply the key, relatively than all of them. For instance, a consumer might create a 2-of-3 quorum, the place three distinctive shares exist however any two of them might be introduced collectively to recreate the key.

This skill could be very useful, as a result of it may permit for theft resistance just like among the beforehand mentioned approaches, however with out growing the danger of loss—actually, it may 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 recuperate their bitcoin with the remaining two shares.

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

The creators of the Trezor {hardware} pockets, Satoshi Labs, launched a normal for utilizing SSS whereas making a bitcoin key. It’s known as the “Shamir backup,” and the main points might be present in SLIP 39. It exists as an possibility whereas organising a Trezor Mannequin T, and if this selection is chosen, the system will produce the consumer’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 thesaurus.

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. The whole lot of the important thing should exist in a single place on the time of the signature, which might be an opportune window for exploitation by an attacker. That is an inescapable reality for singlesig, it doesn’t matter what modifications are used. Multisig, nevertheless, can keep away from this problem and take away all single factors of failure in your bitcoin custody.


Lastly we have now arrived at multisignature, which isn’t a singlesig modification like we’ve coated up up to now, however a essentially totally different construction for holding bitcoin.

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

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

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

Whereas multisig quorums is likely to be just like SSS quorums, there is a vital distinction. If a transaction is created to spend bitcoin out of a multisig pockets, every key can signal independently, at a special time and place. In different phrases, though a 2-of-3 multisig pockets requires two keys to log off 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 totally different members holding totally different keys.

Commerce-offs: Inconvenience and costs

Multisig offers strong safety in your bitcoin, nevertheless it 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 nicely.

Transactions involving multisig have additionally traditionally value extra in mining charges than transactions involving singlesig (on common). Nevertheless, now that the Taproot soft-fork has been activated, this reality could start to alter. With new applied sciences using Taproot and elevated Taproot adoption, multisig transactions can 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 major draw back to making an attempt multisig by yourself is the dearth of dependable technical assist. As we defined in our article overlaying the fundamentals on this subject, the pockets proprietor can have extra keys to maintain observe of, and the main points about how the pockets was configured can also be necessary to save lots of (within the type of a pockets descriptor or pockets configuration file). If somebody is new to bitcoin, managing these further items can really feel overwhelming.

Multisig collaborative custody companies like Unchained can present the schooling and assist wanted for anybody to really feel snug 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 method will usually contain sharing some data together with your collaborative companion about your bitcoin, nevertheless it comes with the good thing about a less complicated setup by lowering the variety of objects you’ll want to maintain observe of your self, assist with pockets upkeep, assist for passing bitcoin on to beneficiaries, and easy accessibility to monetary companies like buying and selling and loans.

What about 3-of-5?

One necessary determination in organising a multisig vault is selecting the right quorum, and 2-of-3 and 3-of-5 are by far essentially the most extensively used for securing bitcoin in chilly storage. Whereas it might be helpful in sure circumstances, 3-of-5 introduces extra complexity than mandatory for many. It may well present further 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 have now coated all the well-known constructions for holding bitcoin, let’s place them in a chart to match their options!

*This is determined by whether or not or not you’ve 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 should not really helpful as a result of it may introduce new dangers.

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

Click on the picture to get $100 off Unchained IRA.

Ought to I exploit singlesig or multisig?

As proven within the chart above, there are tradeoffs between all the totally different constructions for holding bitcoin in self-custody, and this implies there may be not a universally appropriate method. With a view to decide whether or not singlesig or multisig is the higher mannequin for you, it’s essential to first resolve upon your preferences and priorities.

Singlesig and multisig are likely to excel in reverse areas, and this necessary remark begs the query: why not use each? Slightly than viewing these fashions as opponents, they are often good compliments to 1 one other! It’s cheap 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 cell pockets that additionally helps lightning).

In the event you’re serious about some great benefits of collaborative custody multisig, which retains you in full management over your bitcoin custody whereas additionally providing technical assist, streamlined inheritance, and easy accessibility to different companies, remember to guide a free session with the Unchained group!

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Unchained Capital is the official US Collaborative Custody companion of Bitcoin Journal and an integral sponsor of associated content material printed by means of Bitcoin Journal. For extra data on companies provided, custody merchandise, and the connection between Unchained and Bitcoin Journal, please go to our web site.

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