What is a private key?
Your private key is a secret key that should be kept protected because it is what allows you to spend (send) your cryptocurrencies.
It is a code made up of a series of alphanumeric characters that are associated with another code called the public key.
The private key is associated with the public key by means of asymmetric cryptography . Together they serve to protect information when it is sent, and to ensure that when it is received, it has not been modified.
A private key in hexadecimal format looks something like this:
In the case of cryptocurrencies, transactions are signed with the private key, proving your ownership of the funds you wish to transfer. The public key, meanwhile, is used to receive funds.
When you create a cryptocurrency wallet, what you are generating is a public and a private key that will allow you to manage your assets. As you may have already guessed from their names, the private key is not shared, and should be kept private, while the public key can be.
But don't worry, to send funds you don't have to handle all those characters, the wallet takes care of it for you. The only time you should manage your private key is at a time that you would like to import your cryptocurrencies into a new wallet or, more simply put, move your funds from one wallet to another that are each under your control.
How do I easily protect my assets?
In addition, to facilitate the management of the private key, most of the wallets offer you 12 or 24 words called a Mnemonic or Seed phrase; a friendly translation of the master private key which all of your wallet key pairs are derived from. You must keep this phrase in a safe place, as if you lose the private key or your seed phrase you will no longer be able to access your funds in any way.
Losing the private key, in hexadecimal format or as Mnemonic, is a very big risk that the Oxis team wants to help you avoid. For this reason, we allow you to choose a password and three security questions that will give extra protection to your private key so that there's an additional method of recovery if your seed is lost or stolen. Learn how the password and security questions work here.
The public key is also translated for easy handling. So it becomes an address (a smaller set of alphanumeric characters or a QR code) that you can share with those you want to receive funds from. An address looks like this below:
Unless you want to restore a wallet, the private key should remain backed up and in a safe place stored offline where no one else can access it. No one besides you should know it.