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Crypto Custody

Updated on January 5, 2024
Article byShrestha Ghosal
Edited byAshish Kumar Srivastav
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Crypto Custody?

Crypto custody is a specialized service for the secure storage and management of cryptographic assets and cryptocurrencies. These services play a significant role in safeguarding digital assets from loss, theft, hacking, and unauthorized access. They use advanced encryption techniques, secure key management, and robust infrastructure to protect the private keys.

Crypto Custody

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Since cryptocurrencies exist entirely in a digital form, the private keys are essential for accessing and transferring digital assets. Entities and individuals can rely on these services to minimize the inherent risks associated with managing private keys and ensure the integrity and availability of their digital assets.

Key Takeaways

  • Crypto custody is a dedicated service for maintaining and preserving digital assets and cryptocurrencies in an encrypted setting. These services play a vital role in guarding digital assets from theft, loss, security breaches, and unauthorized usage. 
  • The custodial services follow legal guidelines and ensure that know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) laws are followed. These standards are essential for institutional investors.
  • However, challenges, including malfunctions in software, inaccuracies, or interruptions in the blockchain network, might impact these services’ operations and lead to the loss or inaccessibility of digital assets.

Crypto Custody Explained

Crypto custody is the unique service of securely storing and managing digital assets to protect them from theft, loss, and unwarranted access. It involves the secure management of cryptographic keys, which are essential for accessing and authorizing transactions on blockchain networks. The services implement advanced security measures to safeguard the assets from potential risks like hacking, fraud, and operational errors.

The crypto custody services employ a combination of hot wallets and cold storage solutions to obtain easy accessibility and security. Hot wallets are connected to the internet and facilitate quick transactions, which makes them suitable for day-to-day trading activities. Additionally, cold storage involves keeping private keys offline, which adds an extra layer of protection against online threats. This method is preferred for storing large amounts of digital assets over a long period.

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Types

The crypto custody services types are:

  • Self-Custody: Self-custody involves individuals or entities directly managing and securing their private keys through personal wallets or hardware devices. Users maintain complete control and responsibility for the security of their digital assets. This approach offers autonomy but requires a thorough understanding of security practices. However, any lapses could result in irreversible losses.
  • Third-Party Custody: It relies on specialized custodial services provided by external entities. These services manage the security and storage of private keys on behalf of the users. They are preferred for their professional expertise, security measures, and compliance with regulatory standards. However, they introduce an element of reliance on external entities.

Examples

Let us go through the following examples to understand this service:

Example #1

Suppose Amy is a finance professional with a diverse portfolio of digital assets. She chose third-party custody for added security and convenience. It assisted Amy in managing her digital assets with expertise and sophisticated security measures. This reputable third party ensures that her digital money and assets are protected from potential risks. It also helps her manage all the safety details and ensure compliance with the regulations. This decision helped Amy rely on the proficiency and reliability of a professional custodial service.

Example #2

Commerzbank has become Germany’s first full-service commercial bank to be granted a crypto custody license. In order to encourage regulated enterprises to enter the crypto industry, Germany implemented a new licensing scheme for crypto services in 2020. It also introduced an amendment to the EU’s money laundering directive. In April 2022, Commerzbank made its initial license application.

Commerzbank said that its goal is to create an efficient and trustworthy platform with complete legal compliance. The bank aims to support its institutional clients by offering custody for crypto assets based on blockchain technology. The company still needs to provide specifics about the project’s technology stack.

Regulations

The crypto custody regulations are as follows:

  • Many jurisdictions require crypto custodians to implement adequate anti-money laundering(AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) procedures to prevent illegal activities and ensure the identity verification of users.
  • Some regions require crypto custodians to obtain specific licenses or register with relevant financial authorities. Compliance with these requirements is essential for the crypto custody providers to operate legally in a jurisdiction.
  • Regulatory authorities may set financial requirements to ensure the financial stability of crypto custodians.
  • Governments may establish security standards for the crypto custodians to protect against hacking and unauthorized access.
  • The crypto custody regulations in some regions may have provisions to safeguard the interests of consumers, including insurance requirements to cover potential losses or fraudulent activities.
  • Custodians may be subject to data protection regulations to ensure the privacy and security of user information.

Benefits

Some benefits of crypto custody providers include the following:

  • They implement advanced security measures, like encryption, multi-signature schemes, and secure storage, to protect private keys from hacking and unauthorized access.
  • Custodians adhere to regulatory standards, ensuring compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) regulations, which is especially crucial for institutional investors.
  • These services provide a user-friendly experience. They simplify the management of digital assets without requiring users to handle complex security measures themselves.
  • The services may offer insurance coverage for digital asset holdings. It provides an additional layer of protection against losses due to theft or other covered events.
  • The custodians may offer additional services like reporting, auditing, and compliance assistance, which may be beneficial for their clients.
  • Custodial services can facilitate trading activities by providing quick and secure access to digital assets, primarily through the use of hot wallets.

Risks

The crypto custody risks are:

  • These services are susceptible to hacking and security breaches, which may lead to the loss of digital assets.
  • Relying on a third party for custody introduces a counterparty risk. The custodian may face operational challenges, financial instability, or other issues that could impact the safety of stored assets.
  • Users surrender a degree of control over their private keys when using third-party custody. This may lead to dependence on the custodian’s security measures and practices.
  • Issues like software bugs, glitches, or disruptions in the blockchain network can affect the functionality of these services and potentially result in the loss or inaccessibility of digital assets.
  • They may face operational challenges, including system downtimes, maintenance issues, or errors in transactions. These malfunctions may impact users’ ability to access and manage their assets.
  • One of the significant crypto custody risks is that if a custodian goes out of business or faces financial difficulties, users may face challenges in recovering their assets.

Crypto Custody vs Traditional Banks

Here are the main differences between the two:

Crypto Custody

  • This custody operates in a decentralized environment, usually without the need for a central authority. It provides users with more control over their assets.
  • Users can choose between managing their private keys independently or delegating a third-party custodian with the responsibility.
  • It enables users to access and manage their digital assets round-the-clock without the constraints of traditional banking hours.
  • These services are available on a global scale without being restricted by geographical locations.

Traditional Banks

  • Traditional banks operate under centralized authorities and are regulated by government entities.
  • They deal with traditional fiat currencies issued by governments.
  • Banking services usually follow business hours, and transactions may be subject to delays during weekends and holidays.
  • Banks are subject to extensive regulatory frameworks to ensure financial stability, protect consumers, and prevent unlawful activities. They have a more regulated but less flexible environment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Is multi-signature technology essential for crypto custody?

Multi-signature technology enhances the security in this custody but is not considered essential. It adds an extra layer of protection by requiring multiple private keys to authorize transactions. The technology aids in reducing the risk of unauthorized access or misuse. Many custodial services and users use the multi-signature method to reduce the impact of a compromised key. They allow users to customize their security measures based on individual risk tolerance and operational preferences.

2. Is insurance available for crypto custody?

Insurance is available for the custody, which offers a layer of protection against potential losses. Some custodial services provide insurance coverage to safeguard digital assets in the event of security breaches, hacking, or other covered incidents. The insurance may vary in terms of coverage limits, specific scenarios covered, and any associated deductions.

3. Are crypto custody services available for individual investors?

Yes, these services are available for individual investors and assist in providing secure storage and management of digital assets. These services cater to a wide range of users by offering user-friendly interfaces and various security features. Individual investors can choose a specialized service with secure key management based on their specific requirements.

This article has been a guide to what is Crypto Custody. We explain its regulations, types, benefits, risks, examples, and comparison with traditional banks. You may also find some useful articles here –

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