Bitcoin users around the world can relax: reports indicating thousands of private keys were released into the public domain have been dismissed.
A site called directory.io caused a brief panic yesterday when it supposedly listed every bitcoin private key alongside its corresponding public address. Headlines around the web proclaimed bitcoin doom, with some speculation that bitcoin’s minor drop in value was a direct result. It was, however, quickly revealed to be a false alarm, and then, a joke.
“All of these keys (apart from zero) are valid. It is simply a joke. Remember when you've been told that it is almost impossible to generate a key-pair identical to somebody else’s? This is a visual representation of that improbability. Look how many pages there are!” he added.
The site’s lengthy header should have been a giveaway: as fiveturns wrote, the site features a list of computer-generated private key addresses that correspond to nothing in particular. Thus, there is no chance of your address being in there.
Directory.io is actually a worthwhile demonstration of how strong the Bitcoin protocol is, and the (incomprehensibly massive to non-mathematicians) numbers protecting it too. In all those pages, there isn't a key that matches any existing bitcoin key.
Generating the directory.io list “could be done with a 50 line script,” according to one expert. While they are genuine bitcoin private keys, they are all empty. This was quickly discovered once users attempted to import the keys to their own wallets.
Essentially, every time you create a new bitcoin address you’re doing what directory.io did, on a much smaller scale.
While bitcoin addresses, or ‘public keys’ allow users to send money to one another more smoothly than email, it’s your ‘private key' that determines how much bitcoin you have, and whether you have the right to spend it.
Having your real private key published on the internet would indeed be catastrophic, especially if you’re holding a large amount of bitcoin there.
Directory.io’s creator even managed to earn some bitcoin for the work, and posted:
He added that his donation link was there "for people that found it funny – some people did :)”.
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