Privacy and security are important issues for Bitcoin investors. Anyone who gains the private key to a public address on the Bitcoin blockchain can authorize transactions. Private keys should be kept secret—criminals may attempt to steal them if they learn of large holdings. Be aware that anyone can see the balance of a public address that you use. The flip side to this public information is that an individual can create multiple public addresses for themselves. Thus, they can distribute their stash of Bitcoin over many addresses. A good strategy is to keep significant investments at public addresses that are not directly connected to ones that are used for transactions.
Anyone can view a history of transactions made on the blockchain—even you. Although transactions are publicly recorded on the blockchain, identifying user information is not. On the Bitcoin blockchain, only a user’s public key appears next to a transaction—making transactions confidential but not anonymous. In that sense, Bitcoin transactions are more transparent and traceable than cash because all of them are available for public view, unlike private cash transactions. But Bitcoin transactions also have an element of anonymity built into their design. It is very difficult to trace the transacting parties—i.e., the sender and recipient of bitcoin—on the cryptocurrency’s blockchain.
International researchers and the FBI have claimed that they can track transactions made on the Bitcoin blockchain to users’ other online accounts, including their digital wallets.1 For example, if someone creates an account on Coinbase, they must provide their identification. Now, when that person purchases Bitcoin, it is tied to their name. If they send it to another wallet, it can still be traced back to the Coinbase purchase that is connected to the account holder’s identity. This should not concern most investors because Bitcoin is legal in the U.S. and most other developed countries.