Rubber-hose cryptanalysis and protecting your bitcoins

From Wikipedia:

In cryptography, rubber-hose cryptanalysis is a euphemism for the extraction of cryptographic secrets (e.g. the password to an encrypted file) from a person by coercion or torture—such as beating that person with a rubber hose, hence the name—in contrast to a mathematical or technical cryptanalytic attack.

As you may be aware there have been several recent kidnappings and torture of high profile bitcoin/cryptocurrency holders where they were beaten until they gave up their bitcoins (private keys). This is a growing problem and it creates a new reality that we must deal with.

The first rule of thumb is to not brag or publicize the fact that you have bitcoins. But what if you are already a high-profile early adopter/evangelist like myself?

(By the way, if you are just getting started now, you are tomorrow’s early adopter.)

First of all, being an early adopter doesn’t mean you have a lot of bitcoins. Most of us gave them away while promoting the idea of the better world that Free Market Money could bring. That doesn’t matter because most people won’t believe you anyway.

Nevertheless, here are a few things you can do (I have done all three):

Situational Awareness

Pay attention to your environment at all times. Watch your drinks in public places as it is quite easy for someone to spike your drink. Know who you are dealing/meeting with.


Practice self-defense. Learn how to carry and use a concealed weapon if you are comfortable with that.

Give Away Your Bitcoins

I’ve donated all of my bitcoins to a Multisignature Irrevocable Charitable Remainder Trust. The group of trustees holds the private keys to a multi-signature bitcoin wallet which I have no control over. The trust indenture explicitly forbids the payment of any ransom demand. Breach of that contract will bring severe penalties to the trustees. Even more so, the likelihood of getting all the trustees to agree to sign a transaction and break the contract is remote.

The trust advances me a modest, monthly allowance to cover my living expenses (tied to a cost of living index) and, at the time of my death, the capped monthly allowance will continue to be paid to my designated heirs. After their deaths the proceeds will be transferred to a charity that I have pre-selected. If my cost of living rises faster than the index I can petition the trustees for an adjustment but they are not bound to honor the request and hard caps are set in place.

No matter how much I am tortured I have no influence over the trustees as they are explicitly bound by the contract. All that a torturer can get from me is a few hundred bucks that I may be carrying on me at the time. Even if a family member is kidnapped and tortured, none of us have any influence over the irrevocable trust. We only get the monthly allowance while we are alive.

By setting up this arrangement in advance I have already made the decision that I would rather die (and have my bitcoins go to charity) than to see them go to criminals. I’ve lived a great life and I’m prepared to go on to the next world at any time. Death doesn’t scare me. That is an extreme position to take and I know that most people won’t do what I’ve done. Hopefully, you don’t have to make that decision. Take care, be safe, and shut-up about your bitcoins.


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