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Hot Wallet vs. Cold Wallet: What’s the Difference?

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If you're new to cryptocurrencies, you've probably come across the terms 'hot wallets' and 'cold wallets.' But what is the difference, and more importantly, which is best for you?

In this blog, we will deconstruct these terms and help you make an informed decision about safeguarding your digital assets. By the end, you'll understand the difference between hot and cold wallets and know which is best for your crypto goals. Let's get started!

Important facts

  • Hot and cold wallets are the primary means of storing and trading cryptocurrencies and tokens.
     
  • Hot wallets are internet-enabled and available online, while cold wallets are offline and available as physical devices.
     
  • The primary advantage of using a hot wallet is its ease of use.
     
  • A cold wallet provides greater security because it is less vulnerable to hacking and is less vulnerable to digital asset loss.

What are hot wallets?

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Hot crypto wallets are online platforms that provide several functionalities, including storing, sending, and receiving tokens and managing and viewing all available tokens in one place. 

You can access a hot wallet through internet-enabled devices like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. The primary appeal of hot wallets is the ease of sending and receiving crypto on demand.

A hot crypto wallet serves as an interface for completing cryptocurrency transactions. It is in charge of recording your transactions on the decentralized public blockchain ledger.

Two critical components of a hot wallet are the private and public keys, which are made up of a cryptographic string of letters and numbers and are responsible for successful crypto deals with your wallet.

Private and public keys

The private keys are used to validate a token's ownership. You cannot exchange cryptocurrency without them. Think of them as a complex password required to complete a crypto transaction. On the other hand contrast, public keys are alphanumeric characters that you can share to send and receive cryptocurrencies from others.

The private key is used to sign the transaction before it is broadcast digitally. The signature does not reveal any information about the private key to anyone, but it does prove ownership. 

Since a public key is generated from the private key, the user's public key is used to verify that the digital signature originated from the private key. After confirming the transaction's legitimacy, the funds are sent to the recipient's public address.

Simply put, a private key unlocks your data, while a public key prevents unauthorized use.

Types of hot wallets

Popular hot wallets include Binance Wallet, Exodus Wallet, Coinbase Wallet, Robinhood, Edge, Trust Wallet, and more. Hot wallets come in various forms, offering slightly different features and functionalities. Here are some of the most common types of hot wallets:

  • Online wallets:
    These are wallets provided by online cryptocurrency exchanges. Users can access their wallets via a web browser, making them convenient for trading and quick access to funds. 
    However, they are susceptible to hacking attacks on the exchange platform.
     
  • Mobile wallets:
    These wallets are mobile apps available for download on smartphones. They offer a convenient way to manage cryptocurrencies on the go.
     
  • Desktop wallets
    Desktop wallets are software applications installed on computers or laptops. 
    They provide a higher security level than online wallets since they're not always connected to the internet. However, they're still susceptible to malware and hacking if the device is compromised.
     
  • Browser extension wallets
    These are browser add-ons or extensions that allow users to interact with blockchain networks directly through their web browsers. 
    They provide quick access to decentralized applications (DApps) and web-based services.
     
  • Web wallets
    Web wallets are wallets you access through a web browser. They store your private keys on a remote server, making them convenient for online transactions. 
    However, this also means they are more vulnerable to security breaches.
     
  • Exchange wallets
    These are wallets that cryptocurrency exchanges provide for users to hold their funds on the platform. While convenient for trading, they are considered less secure than other hot wallet options due to their exposure to online threats.
     
  • Hybrid wallets
    Hybrid wallets combine features of both hot and cold wallets. They keep some of the user's funds online for convenient access, while most funds are stored securely offline.
     
  • Token-specific wallets
    Some wallets are designed specifically for a certain cryptocurrency or token. For example, wallets like MetaMask are tailored for Ethereum and ERC-20 tokens, providing easy access to the Ethereum ecosystem.

Hot wallet benefits

Hot wallets, as digital wallets connected to the internet, offer several key benefits:

  • Accessibility:
    One of the primary advantages of a hot wallet is its accessibility. Since they're connected to the Internet, you can access your funds from any Internet-enabled device.
     
  • Instant transactions:
    Hot wallets allow instant transactions without delays, which is crucial for active traders and those engaging in time-sensitive transactions.
     
  • Integration with exchanges:
    Hot wallets are often seamlessly integrated with cryptocurrency exchanges. You can quickly move assets between your exchange account and wallet, enabling swift trading activities.
     
  • User-friendly interfaces:
    Hot wallets are designed to be user-friendly, making them accessible even to individuals with limited technical expertise.
     
  • Convenient for small amounts:
    Hot wallets are ideal for storing smaller amounts of cryptocurrencies you use for daily transactions. Think of them like a digital wallet for pocket change, providing a quick and easy way to make payments.
     
  • Practical for staking:
    Some blockchain projects require users to participate in staking or voting processes. Hot wallets are suitable for these activities because they must be connected to the blockchain network.
     
  • Regular software updates:
    Developers often release updates for hot wallet software, enhancing its features, security, and performance. This ensures that users can access the latest wallet functionality.
     
  • Integration with mobile apps:
    Hot wallets are often available as mobile applications. You can manage your cryptocurrencies on the go, which is especially useful for individuals who prefer using smartphones for transactions.
     
  • Ideal for trading platforms:
    Traders who frequently engage with various cryptocurrencies may find hot wallets indispensable. They provide quick access to a wide range of assets, allowing seamless trading activities.

Hot wallet drawbacks

While hot wallets offer convenience and accessibility, they also come with certain drawbacks and risks:

  • Susceptible to hacking
    Hot wallets are connected to the internet, which makes them prone to hacking attempts.
     
  • Phishing and social engineering attacks
    Users may be targeted by phishing scams or social engineering attacks. Thieves could impersonate legitimate sources to trick users into disclosing their private keys or login credentials.
     
  • Higher risk of unauthorized access
    Since hot wallets are online, there is a greater risk than cold wallets. If a user's device is compromised or they inadvertently reveal their private keys, their funds can be at risk.
     
  • Dependence on third-party providers
    Users rely on these wallet providers to maintain the wallet's security and functionality. If the provider experiences issues or breaches, it can impact the safety of the funds.
     
  • Limited storage capacity
    Hot wallets are often designed for smaller amounts of cryptocurrency for everyday use. 
    They may not be suitable for securely storing large sums of digital assets, which are better suited for cold storage solutions.
     
  • Unsuitable for long-term storage
    Due to the higher security risks associated with hot wallets, we do not recommend them for long-term storage of significant amounts of cryptocurrency.
     
  • Prone to technical failures
    Hot wallets can experience technical glitches or failures like any software. This failure can temporarily disrupt access to funds and potentially lead to user inconvenience.
     
  • Risk of phishing scams and fake wallets
    Users must be cautious about downloading legitimate wallet apps and avoiding fake or malicious versions.
     
  • Regulatory compliance issues
    Depending on the jurisdiction and the specific wallet provider, there may be regulatory compliance requirements that users need to be aware of.

What are cold wallets?

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Cold wallets, also known as cold storage solutions, are offline storage methods to secure cryptocurrencies from online threats. Cold wallets differ from hot wallets because they are less vulnerable to hacking. 

This wallet variety rapidly gained adoption and popularity since the collapse of FTX, the largest centralized crypto exchange that failed in November 2022, declared bankruptcy, and reported an alleged hack that allegedly left millions of user assets frozen or gone.

Types of cold wallets

Here are some of the most common types of cold wallets:

  • Paper Wallets
    A paper wallet generates a physical copy or printout of a user's public and private keys. These keys are usually presented as QR codes, which can be scanned when needed. Since paper wallets are offline and physically stored, they are immune to online attacks.
     
  • Hardware Wallets
    Hardware wallets are physical devices designed specifically for storing cryptocurrencies. They resemble smart cards or USB drives and come with built-in security features. Hardware wallets are the most secure options for long-term storage of digital assets.
     
  • Hardware Security Modules (HSMs)
    HSMs are also physical devices that provide secure storage and management of private keys. Enterprises and financial institutions commonly use them to protect sensitive information.
     
  • Steel wallets
    Steel wallets are physical devices made of metal (often stainless steel) that store private keys in a tamper-resistant form. Users can etch or engrave their keys onto the steel, ensuring long-term durability and resistance to physical damage.
     
  • Cryptocurrency paper banknotes
    These are physical notes that contain a public address and a private key, usually covered by a scratch-off material. They function similarly to paper wallets, providing a physical form of cryptocurrency storage.
     
  • Deep cold storage:
    This term refers to methods that involve keeping backups of private keys in highly secure physical locations, such as bank vaults or safety deposit boxes.
     
  • Time-locked cold wallets: 
    These cold wallets have a mechanism that enforces a waiting period before any withdrawals can be made. This mechanism adds an extra layer of security, preventing immediate access to the funds in case of a compromise.
     
  • Multi-signature wallets with offline signers
    This involves creating a wallet that requires multiple signatures to authorize a transaction. Some of the required signatures can be held on offline devices, providing an added layer of security.
     
  • Sound Wallet:
    Sound wallets keep your private access keys secure as encrypted audio, whether on CDs or 7-inch vinyl. A spectroscope app can extract information from the track, even though your encrypted login key is converted into a sound file less than a minute long and sounds like white noise to anyone listening.

Cold wallet benefits

Cold storage solutions offer several significant benefits for securing cryptocurrencies:

  • High-security level:
    Cold wallets are highly resistant to online hacking attempts and cyber threats, providing an extra layer of security for stored assets.
     
  • Protection from attacks
    They are immune to phishing attacks and malware. This makes them an ideal choice for long-term storage of significant cryptocurrency holdings.
     
  • Immunity to network vulnerabilities:
    Cold wallets are unaffected by network outages, congestion, or other issues that sometimes impact online wallets or exchanges.
     
  • Reduced risk of unauthorized access:
    With private keys stored offline, there is a significantly reduced risk of unauthorized access.
     
  • Long-term storage:
    Cold wallets are well-suited for storing cryptocurrencies over extended periods, providing peace of mind for users who want to hold onto their assets as a long-term investment.
     
  • Tamper-evident design:
    Some cold wallets have physical elements that help you detect if they have been tampered with. This feature provides an additional layer of assurance for users.
     
  • Control over private keys:
    With cold wallets, users have complete control over their private keys, which are not shared with any third-party service or platform. This aligns with the principles of true ownership and autonomy in the cryptocurrency space.
     
  • Independence:
    Cold wallets operate independently of third-party services or providers. Users do not need to rely on the security practices of external companies, which can sometimes be a source of vulnerability in the crypto space.
     
  • Protection from exchange failures:
    If an exchange or online wallet service is experiencing technical issues, bankruptcy, or other operational problems, cold wallet users are not affected.
     
  • Safe backup and recovery options:
    Users can create multiple backups of their cold wallet, allowing for secure recovery of their funds if the original wallet is lost, damaged, or compromised.

Cold wallet disadvantages

While cold wallets are highly secure and effective for long-term storage of cryptocurrencies, they do come with some drawbacks:

  • Limited accessibility:
    Since cold wallets are typically offline, users may need to go through extra steps to access their assets, making frequent transactions less convenient.
     
  • Not ideal for active trading:
    People who need quick access to their funds may find cold wallets impractical due to the extra steps involved in transferring assets.
     
  • Risk of physical damage or loss:
    Unlike hot wallets, physical cold wallets (like paper wallets or steel wallets) can be susceptible to physical damage, such as fire, water damage, or misplacement.
     
  • Steep learning curve for new users:
    Setting up and using a cold wallet may be more complex for beginners. It requires a good understanding of private keys and addresses and securely storing and accessing digital assets.
     
  • Less versatility for DApps
    Cold wallets may not be well-suited for interacting with decentralized applications (DApps) or executing smart contracts, often requiring more immediate access to funds.
     
  • Price of hardware wallets:
    Hardware wallets, one of the most secure forms of cold storage, come with an initial cost. While this expense is often considered a worthwhile investment for security-conscious users, it is a factor to consider.

Cold wallet vs. hot wallet: Comparison table

We provided this table as a quick reference guide for comparing the characteristics of cold and hot wallets.

 

Hot wallet

Cold wallet

Price

Typically free

 

 

You must purchase a physical device. Price ranges between $43 and $450

Use cases

Convenient for easy access and frequent transactions

Better suited for long-term digital asset storage

Storage capacity

Hot wallets can store tens of thousands of cryptocurrencies

Some cold wallets have unlimited storage

Security

Poor. Hot wallets are very vulnerable to hacking

Excellent. Cold wallets have robust security measures to prevent hacking attempts

Loss protection

Great. Hot wallets have recovery and backup options and can be accessed from multiple devices

Average loss protection. Most cold wallets have limited recovery and backup options

Ease of transfer

Hot wallets are easy to access due to their internet connection

Connecting cold wallets online via USB, Bluetooth, NFC, or QR code requires an extra step

Accessibility

Less convenient for frequent transactions

Convenient for active trading and quick access

Protection

Vulnerable to physical damage or loss

Highly resistant to physical damage or loss

Setup Complexity

More user-friendly and easier to set up

Requires more technical knowledge for setup

Versatility

More versatile for interacting with DApps and smart contracts

Limited functionality for executing smart contracts

 

FAQS

— Are hot wallets better than cold wallets?

No, not really. Most people would say that your needs and preferences determine the best type of wallet for you. But cold wallets today can be as convenient as hot wallets and are appropriate for people who conduct crypto transactions regularly.

— Which is more secure, a hot or cold wallet?

Since your private and public keys are connected to the internet and thus more vulnerable, hot wallets are less secure than cold wallets. A cold wallet, on the other hand, gives you complete control over your private and public keys.

— Can I use a hot and cold wallet at the same time?

Yes, you can use both. You can hold a more significant portion of your digital assets in a cold wallet and a smaller percentage in a hot wallet. This way, you can better protect your digital assets while benefiting from the flexibility of having both crypto wallets.

— Is Coinbase a hot or cold wallet?

Coinbase wallet is a hot wallet. However, you can move your assets from your Coinbase Wallet to cold storage on devices like the Tangem Wallet.

Conclusion

Each type of crypto wallet has its own set of advantages. While cold wallets are offline and take the form of a physical item, like a smart card or USB stick, hot wallets are internet-enabled and online. The only benefit of using a hot wallet is its sheer convenience. It can offer simplicity of use and a user-friendly interface. However, using both wallets to recognize and prevent flaws is a good practice.