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.
Reddit user fiveturns, claiming to be behind the site, said:
“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.
A better guide on your chances of finding someone else’s private key can be found here.
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.
Private keys are (hopefully) guarded securely by wallet software or printed on ‘paper wallets’, as anyone who discovers that key can access all the bitcoins stored at its corresponding address.
Having your real private key published on the internet would indeed be catastrophic, especially if you’re holding a large amount of bitcoin there.
Losing your private key (either by deleting it or throwing it somewhere you can’t retrieve it) means the bitcoins linked to that address are gone too – both to you and the world.
The bitcoin wiki says it all:
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 :)”.
Security Image Via Shutterstock
CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.