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Protecting Recovery Seed with Passphrase

What is Passphrase

The passphrase is an additional password used to protect your recovery seed.

Let’s say your recovery seed has 24 words.

When you activate your passphrase, the passphrase will become the “25th seed word” and a necessary component of your seed.

According to Trezor’s twitter account, the passphrase can be described as below:

Why Use Passphrase – Security Benefits

Benefit #1: Passphrase Protects Hardware Wallet Against Physical Attack

Passphrase protects your hardware wallet against physical attack.

Even if someone steals your wallet and examine its chip under an electron microscope to discover your recovery seed, your digital assets will remain safe because the seed is protected with the passphrase.

Benefit #2: Passphrase Protects Recovery Seed in Case Someone Steals It

Passphrase protects your digital assets in case someone finds or steals your recovery seed.

As the recovery seed is protected with the passphrase, the person won’t be able to access your assets without the passphrase.

Benefit #3: Passphrase Protects You Against $5 Wrench Attack

Once passphrase is activated on your hardware wallet, it will create a new “hidden account”.

This account is hidden (with the passphrase) because anybody without the passphrase won’t be able to access the account or even to know about this account at all.

This fact gives you a great advantage in situations such as being held at gunpoint (also known as the $5 wrench attack).

In this situation, you can save yourself (and your digital assets stored on the hidden account) by revealing just your basic wallet (using just your recovery seed without any passphrase) with a minimal amount on it (e.g., $5 equivalent).

How to Choose Safe Passphrase

There is a great guide on how to create a secure and safe password on wikihow website.

Some of their tips on how to create a strong password are:

  • Choose a passphrase that no one will easily guess or hack
  • Make sure your passphrase is long
  • Use at least one capital letter and one lowercase letter in your passphrase
  • Use spaces in your passphrase

The same tips can be followed when creating your passphrase.

You can also use the free KeePass tool to create and remember strong passwords for you.

How to Enable Passphrase on Your Hardware Wallet

Let’s see how you can activate passphrase on Trezor hardware wallet.

First, connect your Trezor and login into the official wallet.

Then go to Advanced settings and click “Enable passphrase encryption” as shown below.

When asked, confirm that you want to enable the passphrase encryption and that you are aware that if you forget your passphrase, you won’t be able to access your wallet.

Finally, you will be asked to disconnect and connect your hardware wallet again.

Since now, every time you connect your hardware wallet, you will be asked to enter your passphrase.

See how the passphrase works for Ledger wallet:

Advanced passphrase security
Guide to hardened plausible deniability on Ledger nano S

Note: If you have stored some funds in your hardware wallet before setting up the passphrase encryption, they will not appear after enabling the passphrase. However, they are not lost, and you can access them by entering an empty passphrase.

How to Disable Passphrase and What Happens Once Disabled

The process of how to disable the passphrase depends on what hardware wallet you are using.

Let’s see how you can disable passphrase on Trezor hardware wallet.

First, connect your Trezor and login into the official wallet.

Then go to Advanced settings and click “Disable passphrase encryption” as shown below.

If you have stored some funds in your hardware wallet after setting up the passphrase encryption, they will not appear after disabling the passphrase.

However, they are not lost.

You can access them by entering the same passphrase again.

Using Hardware Wallet with Passphrase

Once the passphrase is activated, you will be asked to enter the passphrase every time you connect your hardware wallet.

Without entering the exact passphrase, you will not be able to open the hardware wallet and access the digital assets stored on it.

Can I Use Multiple Passphrases with a Single Hardware Wallet?

As every passphrase generates a new wallet, you can use multiple different passphrases with your hardware wallet.

Can Your Passphrase be Brute Forced?

What Is Brute Force Attack

According brute-force attack Wikipedia definition, a brute-force attack consists of an attacker submitting many passwords or passphrases with the hope of eventually guessing correctly.

The attacker systematically checks all possible passwords and passphrases until the correct one is found.

How Long Does It Take to Brute Force Your Passphrase

Every passphrase can be theoretically brute forced, however practically it would take a too long time (e.g., thousands of years).

There is excellent website howsecureismypassword where you can check you long it would take to brute force your passphrase with an average computer.

Let’s look at an example.

It would take 4 WEEKS to brute force passphrase “mypassphrase“, means this passphrase is NOT safe.

It would take 573 QUADRILLION YEARS to brute force passphrase “my-passphrase#!183$%!“, means this passphrase is safe.

How to Prevent Your Passphrase to Be Brute Forced

To prevent your passphrase to be brute forced follow security tips on how to choose a safe passphrase.

What Happen If I Forget My Passphrase?

If you forget your passphrase, you won’t be able to access its wallet, and your digital assets are lost forever.

Therefore make sure to create multiple backups of your passphrase.

Where Shall I Store My Passphrase?

You can store your passphrase either online or offline depending on your preferences.

If you store your passphrase online, you can encrypt your passphrase for added security.

As the main purpose of the passphrase is to protect your recovery seed in case of theft, the most important rule is that you should never store your passphrase in the same place together with your recovery seed.

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