Oh well. I’ve created a new bitcoin key, following the same procedure, and distributed it in a similar fashion. BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—– Hash: SHA256 On behalf of the Tahoe-LAFS Software Foundation, I’m pleased to update folks on the current state of our bitcoin donations, and to publish a new donation address. Until recently, I was dreading making this update. Peter remembered making a few Time Machine backups of the drive in question, but we didn’t know where they were. The embarrassment got worse as the price of BTC shot up dramatically: at the peak (November 2013), it hit $1147/BTC, making this a $430,000 accident. In the first four months, we received 205 BTC. Plus, we have no experience at all with things that grow in value by four orders of magnitude, without any attention, in just three years. So we have a cryptocurrency-tool UX task in front of us: to avoid mistakes like the one we made, we must to either move these digital assets into solid-feeling physical containers, or retrain our perceptions to attach value to the key strings themselves. One sequence of 256 random bits looks just as worthless as any other.
One of the reasons I spent my weekend engraving secret words into metal plates was to give them some heft: it’s harder to treat something carelessly when it feels solid in your hand. One likely backup was discovered to have been reformatted and filled with childrens cartoons. We continued to get an occasional donation: about one or two per month. And the cold hard unforgeability of these keys means we can’t rely upon other humans to get our money back when we lose them. On January 29th 2013, we removed the donation key from the website to discourage anybody from throwing further money into /dev/null. Even paper money has a particular color, smell, and texture, and we’re really good at tracking it (quick: where is your wallet right now?). Good news! He found a backup drive with the private keys. Episode 2: Revenge of mkfs And that’s when we had some horrible news. Episode 3: A New Hope But I’m glad to report the story has a happy ending. I got a message from Peter, who told me a sad story. However we never got around to publishing that key: I kept hoping we’d find a recoverable backup somewhere, and we were all reluctant to admit our mistakes.
On 8-Jan-2016, I got another message from Peter. But for now, I’m just relieved that Peter needed to look through those shoes. In a moving box, buried underneath a pile of shoes. Anything to trigger our sense of “oh, I should keep track of this thing, it’s probably important”. And I’ll be following up with the custodians to make sure they keep track of the copies this time. Two houses later. I surveyed the custodians of the hand-delivered copies of the key I prepared in 2013, and found that nobody could remember where they put that envelope. Potential donors should check both properties (git commit and GPG signature) before considering donating funds (the release-signing key is held only by me, and checking in a file requires commit privileges). Maybe the next step is to etch silver bars, or gold-electroplate some bricks (“heavy: check! shiny: check! must be valuable”). No luck. Meanwhile, I prepared a new key, on an isolated machine, with no machine-readable copies left lying around to be stolen.
At least two copies are etched onto stainless steel plates, in the hopes that the information might survive a fire. Advice For Others Purely-digital currencies are exciting, but they stretch our human intuitions about what qualifies as “valuable”. But ECDSA private keys don’t trigger the same protective instincts that we’d apply to, say, a bar of gold. The bitcoind wallet which held the private keys was stored on a single laptop. A combination of errors resulted in that laptop being erased and reformatted: miscommunication between the owners of the laptop, lack of awareness of where the keys were held, and a basic misperception of the value of those funds. The plan was to write up a long (embarrasing) blog post, announce the new key, explain how we would take more care with it this time, and humbly apologize to those donors whose funds we managed to lose. Ouch. We managed to put the incident out of our collective minds for a few years. Two and a half years passed, and the price of BTC grew by a factor of 100. In January of 2013, it was trading at $15/BTC, and we were sitting on about $6000.