Skip to content

Secure Cold Wallet Setup

Last updated for CLI release v1.6.3.


This is a guide for securely holding your Decred. The system described here uses two computers:

  • Computer-A - The Node

    A laptop or desktop that will be running the dcrd node. Connects to the public internet and is expected to remain online most of the time.

  • Wallet-B - The Wallet

    A secure system that will be running the wallet. Should never connect to the public internet, and can remain offline and powered off most of the time.

The guide assumes some general technical knowledge, and that users know how to enter commands on a terminal. This guide uses the more technical CLI-based Decred software, but it would be possible to use a GUI for Wallet B and still maintain similar security.

Although focused on Decred and Raspberry Pi, this guide can also be used for more general hardware devices and almost any cryptocurrency. This guide also gives instructions and commands specific to Debian/Linux systems, but the principles/tools can be applied to almost any OS.

Because firewalls can be complex and difficult for beginners, this guide assumes that users have zero familiarity with firewalls. The instructions here will explain how to set up a simple (but strong and sufficient) software firewall that isolates Wallet-B from the public internet.


Scope and Limitations

The scope of this guide is to secure your cryptocurrency holdings from common malware and light threats. The wallet setup in this guide is generally known as a “cold wallet”. If you are a normal cryptocurrency holder and follow this guide exactly, it should give a good level of security.

This setup will not protect you against a state-level attacker or a persistent threat.

General Security offers more techniques to keep your system secure.


The Setup

Network diagram

Benefits of this Setup

  • Wallet-B is kept offline and turned off most of the time. This greatly reduces attack surface/opportunity.
  • An attacker would have to compromise dcrd on Computer-A first, and then find a way to break into Wallet-B using the RPC to compromise and steal your wallet data. This is highly unlikely and difficult to pull off.
  • dcrd on Computer-A can be used for other purposes in your local network (eg. other wallets, DEX, etc), so you don’t need to maintain multiple dcrd instances within your local network.
  • Even though Wallet-B is kept offline, it’s still possible for it to participate in staking by using a VSP.
  • Advanced readers can extrapolate from this guide and make Wallet-B a “hot” wallet so they can Solo Stake, but that’s significantly more vulnerable to attacks and outside the scope of this guide.

Hardware

Computer-A - The Node

In general, you can use almost any computer to run the node (see the Minimum Recommended Specifications for dcrd). Computer-A is expected to remain online most of the time, but it’s not required. For a budget device with a low energy requirement, it’s fine to use a Raspberry Pi, but keep in mind that your device also needs to run an operating system. Many people choose to run nodes on the 4 GB models of Raspberry Pi’s, using a lightweight OS. It would also be fine to use an old laptop or desktop. This guide assumes users are aware that since Computer-A is connecting to the public internet, it is potentially vulnerable to attacks.

Wallet-B - The Wallet

Since the wallet needs to have the utmost security in this setup, it’s important to have a minimal attack surface. This guide suggests that this wallet be a cold wallet, i.e. powered off most of the time. It is nearly impossible to attack a system which is powered off. This guide suggests using a Raspberry Pi for the wallet, although other hardware can be used.

Finally, this guide suggests using a mouse, keyboard, and monitor to access each device.

Operating Systems

Since Computer-A is not storing any sensitive information, the choice of operating system is less important than the choice for Wallet-B. dcrd can be installed on anything from Windows to Mac to Linux to OpenBSD. However, using Linux or OpenBSD should be considered to reduce your attack surface.

This guide assumes you already have an operating system on Computer-A, and won’t describe how to install a new one.

Wallet-B will be the more secure device. Use an operating system you feel comfortable with. Consider using Linux or OpenBSD to reduce your attack surface. Raspbian works fine if you want a GUI, and Ubuntu Desktop is another good choice for beginners who don’t need a GUI.

This guide will give commands specific to Debian/Linux based systems. All details/commands that come within curly braces {} cannot be copy-pasted - you will need to remove the curly braces and edit the command to suit your setup.

Setting up Computer-A

If you use dcrwallet on this system, do not use the same seed and/or password on Wallet-B

  1. Use dcrinstall to install Decred binaries and config files.

  2. Use ifconfig to find the IP address of Computer-A on your local network.

  3. Start dcrd on Computer-A, ensuring it exposes RPC to the local network.

    dcrd --rpclisten={LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A}
    

    Let dcrd fully sync to the latest block.

  4. Create a folder which will be copied over to Wallet-B. Copy the dcrd certificate and config into that folder.

    mkdir ~/copytob
    cp ~/.dcrd/rpc.cert ~/copytob
    cp ~/.dcrd/dcrd.conf ~/copytob
    
  5. Download the Decred binaries release for your Wallet-B OS from GitHub and place it in the same folder.

    Note: it’s recommended that you don’t use dcrinstall again on Wallet-B, since it would generate new *.cert and *.conf files which are not compatible with Computer-A.

    wget -P ~/copytob https://github.com/decred/decred-binaries/releases/download/v1.6.3/decred-linux-arm64-v1.6.3.tar.gz
    wget -P ~/copytob https://github.com/decred/decred-binaries/releases/download/v1.6.3/decred-v1.6.3-manifest.txt
    wget -P ~/copytob https://github.com/decred/decred-binaries/releases/download/v1.6.3/decred-v1.6.3-manifest.txt.asc
    
  6. Using the binary tar file, manifest, and signature you just downloaded, verify the tar file to ensure it has not been tampered with. Once verified, you can delete the manifest and signature files.

  7. Archive the copytob folder for transport to Wallet-B.

    tar -zcvf ~/copytob.tar.gz -C ~/copytob decred-linux-{arm/amd}64-v1.6.3.tar.gz dcrd.conf rpc.cert`
    
  8. You can also calculate the hash to ensure that the file is not modified while moving.

    sha256sum ~/copytob.tar.gz`
    

    Make a note of the generated hash. For extra security, store the hash on an uneditable medium. e.g. paper or a photograph. A digital copy of the hash could be manipulated by any malicious program running on the system.

  9. Finally, copy the archive copytob.tar.gz onto a portable drive, like a USB flash drive.

    For ease of use, make a folder on your portable drive called bconfig, and then copy the archive over, e.g.:

    sudo mkdir /media/{your_username}/writable/bconfig

    then

    sudo cp ~/copytob.tar.gz /media{your_username}/writable/bconfig

    Now unmount the drive from your system.

    This will be the last time you will ever connect this drive to a system with public internet access.

Setting up Wallet-B

  1. Choose the operating system you’d like to use on Wallet-B, then use another computer to make a bootable USB drive to install that OS.

    Generally speaking, an operating system with fewer features will have a smaller attack surface, so consider using a minimal OS with no unnecessary features.

    If you are using a Raspberry Pi, you can use rpi-imager (details provided below).

    To install Linux on non-Raspberry Pi systems, consider using unetbootin.

    rpi-imager (click to expand)

    https://www.raspberrypi.org/software/ has rpi-imager which has a nice easy to use interface and has Ubuntu Desktop listed under Other general purpose OS -> Ubuntu -> Ubuntu Desktop.

    Once rpi-imager is done, the disk/card with the OS installed should mount volumes.

    We will need to work with

    writable
    *boot
    

    Open the config.txt file in *boot.

    Find the text [all] and add the following lines below it:

    dtoverlay=disable-wifi
    dtoverlay=disable-bt
    

    This will disable the WiFi and Bluetooth from being initialized when the system boots.

  2. Now boot Wallet-B with the installation disk inserted, but MAKE SURE IT DOES NOT HAVE THE ETHERNET CABLE CONNECTED.

    Depending on the OS it should show you a system setup and a default user creation menu, proceed with a strong password. Once the system is installed it should reboot.

  3. Once you have logged in, get familiar with the system, adjust the clock, etc.

  4. Open a terminal and disable WiFi and Bluetooth using rfkill:

    sudo rfkill block wifi
    sudo rfkill block bluetooth
    
    Raspberry Pi specific (click to expand)

    Optionally you may choose to disable WiFi and Bluetooth at the kernel level too.

    Create a file in /etc/modprobe.d/raspi-blacklist.conf and add the contents:

    blacklist brcmfmac
    blacklist brcmutil
    blacklist hci_uart
    blacklist btbcm
    blacklist btintel
    blacklist rfcom
    blacklist btqca
    blacklist btsdio
    blacklist bluetooth
    
  5. Set up the software firewall.

    This is the key to keeping this device isolated from the public internet. If you ever connect to the internet from this device without this firewall active then this device could become vulnerable.

    The simple firewall is as follows (and these steps have to be done in order):

    • Deny all outgoing traffic attempting to leave this device.
    • Deny all incoming traffic attempting to access this device.
    • Allow outgoing traffic to Computer-A only, on one specific port only (9109).
    • Enable the firewall.
    sudo ufw default deny outgoing
    sudo ufw default deny incoming
    sudo ufw allow out to {LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A} port 9109
    sudo ufw enable
    

    Replace {LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A} with the actual IP address of Computer-A.

    You can check that the firewall is running using the command sudo ufw status verbose.

  6. Now you may connect the ethernet cable.

    Wait for the connection to take place and then test if you can connect to Computer-A on port 9109:

    wget {LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A}:9109
    

    You should get an error a 400 Bad Request error. This is fine and shows that a connection is possible.

  7. Now to set up dcrctl and dcrwallet. Insert the USB drive from Computer-A.

    Before extracting this tarfile and running the binary, check that the file is unchanged.

    sha256sum /bconfig/copytob.tar.gz
    

    If the hash matches the hash you stored during the Computer-A setup, then you can extract the file.

    mkdir ~/decredconfigs
    mkdir ~/decred
    tar -xf /bconfig/copytob.tar.gz -C ~/decredconfigs
    tar -xf ~/decredconfigs/decred-linux-{amd/arm}64-v1.6.3.tar.gz -C ~/decred
    cp ~/decred/decred-linux-{amd/arm}64-v1.6.3/* ~/decred/
    rm -rf ~/decred/decred-linux-{amd/arm}64-v1.6.3/
    

    Now we have the Decred binaries in the ~/decred folder. Don’t run them before creating the config files in the next step.

  8. The next step is to create the dcrctl and dcrwallet config files that will allow those processes to connect to Computer-A.

    Create the directories for those files:

    mkdir ~/.dcrwallet/
    mkdir ~/.dcrctl/
    

    Copy the RPC username and password from ~/decredconfigs/dcrd.conf. These need to be pasted into the dcrctl and dcrwallet config files.

    Create the config files with the following contents:

    ~/.dcrwallet/dcrwallet.conf
    rpcconnect={LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A}:9109
    cafile=~/decredconfigs/rpc.cert
    username={username}
    password={password}
    
    ~/.dcrctl/dcrctl.conf
    rpcserver={LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A}:9109
    walletrpcserver=127.0.0.1
    rpccert=~/decredconfigs/rpc.cert
    rpcuser={username}
    rpcpass={password}
    

That’s it.

You can test your setup by running ~/decred/dcrctl getbestblock.

It should show the latest block.

You can now setup a wallet as described in the dcrwallet setup guide.


Improvements

  • This system can only be used to store and spend coins. It currently cannot be used to purchase tickets. This can be easily achieved by hosting a TOR instance in Computer-A apt-get install tor and then connecting dcrwallet using its proxy setting. (You will need to add a rule to UFW accordingly eg: sudo ufw allow out to {LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A} port 9050)

  • A MITM proxy can be setup between Computer-A RPC and Wallet-B. This can either be used to log traffic or can even be used to approve/disapprove all responses/requests.

  • Remove WiFi/Bluetooth hardware physically.
  • Use a more secure/lightweight OS.
  • Setup router level firewall rules secondary to UFW.
  • Use an Ethernet crossover cable to connect to Computer-A. This will greatly reduce the local network attack surface. (Most devices now auto cross over and you don’t need a special cable)
  • If your router supports it, bind the MAC of both devices to a static IP.

Common Errors and Pitfalls

Missing Software

Some operating systems might not have ufw or tar by default. If your Wallet-B is missing some software, you will have to either copy it from Computer-A using a removable storage device, or install it from an online software repository.

IP Changes

If at any point the IP of Computer-A changes, the firewall rule on Wallet-B which allows connections out to dcrd on Computer-A will need to be recreated:

  1. Find the existing firewall rule.

    sudo ufw status numbered
    
  2. Delete the rule.

    sudo ufw delete {RULE_NUMBER}
    
  3. Recreate the rule with the new IP.

    sudo ufw allow out to {LOCAL_IP_OF_COMPUTER-A} port 9109
    

You will also have to regenerate certificates for dcrd and copy them over securely.