There are many stories in Bitcoin lore of people coming into unexpected luck when Bitcoin left over from purchases years ago is suddenly worth a fortune after drastic price increases. The lucky person goes to try and withdraw their Bitcoins, only to realize they’ve lost the password or private key.
There are also many stories of people outright losing access to their stash, making the Bitcoin inaccessible. Now a small industry is springing up to help people recover their lost Bitcoin.
A writer at APAC Newswire reports receiving a gift of GBP 5 from ‘Bitcoin Jesus’ three and a half years ago. It was after the Bitcoin rally to USD 20,000 did the writer realize this had turned into GBP 400. The problem was, the private key was lost. A similar story is that of Youssef Sarhan, who bought several hundred dollars worth of Bitcoin in 2013. When it was worth USD 10,000, he realized he lost his password.
Sarhan taught himself code to create a program that tested tens of millions of passwords to no avail. This is a common approach, there are apparently many websites offering to brute force passwords by going through as many combinations as possible.
Brute force attacks are only possible for relatively short passwords. The number of combinations is a simple formula: the possible number of characters multiplied by the password length in characters. Therefore, the number of combinations exponentially increases with length. There are 94 possible characters including uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters. So for a 5-character password, which is shorter than most passwords especially when dealing with Bitcoin, there are already 7.3 billion possible combinations. Apparently, skilled hackers with powerful computers can quickly hack a 5-character password, but for 8 characters it would take more than a decade since the number of combinations is in the quadrillions. For 9 characters, it would take more than 1,000 years to brute force a password. A brute force attempt to recover a password can be made easier if someone remembers part of their password.
Brute force services for Bitcoin private keys are very likely fraudulent since it is virtually impossible to brute force a Bitcoin private key with even the most powerful supercomputer. Anyone able to brute force a Bitcoin private key could just steal all the Bitcoins, so wouldn’t be working for small amounts of money anyway.
When brute force attacks to recover passwords fail, as they usually do, it might be the right time to call the crypto hypnotist. Crypto hypnotists use hypnosis to help people remember what the password was or to remember where they wrote it down. One such crypto hypnotist, Jason Miller of South Carolina, charges half a Bitcoin up front and 5% of the recovered Bitcoin for three hypnosis sessions. This is actually a good deal for people that have lost millions of dollars in Bitcoin, since this fee would come up to only several thousand dollars.
The clear solution to this problem is to never lose passwords in the first place. Bitcoin private keys should be safely backed up on an external drive, or a photo of the private key should be taken with an old Polaroid camera and stored in a safe place. Additionally, there are now custodial solutions available to help safeguard your Bitcoin.
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