Mnemonic Phrase and Its Importance

Today we’d like to tell you about the mnemonic phrase — and its importance and features. This will answer a lot of questions from our users, including why you cannot use your own words within your UMI mnemonic phrase. Let us not “beat about the bush” and get straight to the point.

Mnemonic phrase inside out 

Essentially, the word “mnemonic” is translated  from the Ancient Greek as “art of memory”. Mnemonics are a set of methods and techniques to facilitate data perception and storage. In other words, abstract objects or ideas the brain finds hard to process are replaced with those easily perceived visually, aurally or kinesthetically. 

To access coins, Bitcoin wallets initially used only private keys — randomly generated and stored in the wallet.dat file. It caused a lot of problems and was terribly inconvenient. This is why the crypto community decided to turn to mnemonics. 

The crypto world uses mnemonics to simplify visual perception and memorization of private keys for crypto wallets — i. e. to generate mnemonic phrases. In simple terms, mnemonics “transforms” a really long number consisting of multiple digits into a set of a few words that become your “login and password” to access your wallet — or your mnemonic phrase. 

Mnemonic phrase aka seed-phrase is the main method used to log into the official UMI wallet and access coins. It’s important to note it’s not a password. While you can recover passwords for your e-mail and accounts on social media, exchange platforms and other web-sites that require authorization, there are no way whatsoever to restore mnemonic phrases. Equally, you cannot change your mnemonic phrase. It’s not stored anywhere, and you’re the only one with access to your wallet by default.

This is why it’s really important to store your mnemonic phrase with maximum (!) security. In one of the future articles we’ll tell you more about it. Naturally, it’s important not to show your mnemonic phrase to strangers as anyone who knows your mnemonic phrase can log into your wallet unchecked and take possession of your coins. You and only you are the one person who should know the phrase. This is the foundation of your crypto security. 

How the technical aspect works: explained in simple terms

When you create a crypto wallet, you auto-generate your own unique private key in the cryptocurrency network: 

  • Initially, a combination of characters in binary code is generated. It consists of a certain number of digits (zeros and ones aka bits). The output is a number comprising a multitude of 1’s and 0’s or entropy, in science terms.

Part of entropy in its initial format. Source

  • Entropy is randomly generated and represents a multi-digit number that is unique for each new generation event. In other words, it’s never repeated. Each number of this kind may contain an endless number of digits/bits, but generally numbers containing 128 to 256 digits are used. It is sufficient to prevent two people from generating identical entropies. If you want more details, the number of possible combinations in an entropy that is 256 bits long is 2 raised to the power of 256. In numerical terms, it’s 1.157920892373162e+77 or 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,540,007,913,129,639,936 variations. This number contains 78 digits, i. e. the number of possible combinations is bigger than the number of stars in the visible Universe! An attempt to hack it using the full enumeration method and existing machine power would take more time than the life of the Sun. Is this enough to make you feel completely safe?
  • Since human brain finds it a lot easier to perceive and memorize a set of words rather than a multitude of binary code digits, mnemonics transforms entropy into a user-friendly text format. In the end, the wallet owner will see a text consisting of 12–24 words instead of a number with 128–256 digits. This text is the mnemonic phrase.
  • It’s then processed by the special hashing algorithm (in the case of UMI, it means 2,048 rounds using sha512). The result is a private key you can use to access your coins and a public key used to generate your address in the UMI network. Thus, the mnemonic phrase is a universal “magical code” that opens all doors for you to access and fully use your cryptocurrency. In the end, the mnemonic phrase saves you from storing private keys, dealing with complex cryptography or noting down a bunch of digits and characters. You will only have a simple set of a few words which is more than enough for the successful use of cryptocurrency.

Simplified diagram of mnemonic phrase generation. Source

Methods of mnemonic phrase generation have certain peculiarities, too. Theoretically, you can use any words you want, but the crypto community believes it’s not safe. Therefore, they generally use a few standards known as BIP (Bitcoin Improvement Proposal) to generate mnemonic phrases. Despite the name, these standards are used in most official wallets of other cryptocurrencies, too.

But we’re not going to get into technical complexities. Suffice it to mention that the most widely used, safe and convenient standard is BIP39 used for Bitcoin, Ethereum and other top coin wallets. 

  • BIP39 allows you to generate a phrase ranging from 12 to 24 words. It’s 12 words for 128 bits and 24 words for 256 bits, accordingly.
  • The BIP39 word list used for phrase generation includes 2,048 simple and easy-to-remember English words you can review here. Moreover, according to the standard, words in phrases are selected in a way that makes them easy to remember and allows you to use the first three letters to easily make up the remaining part. 

BIP39 is a safe and convenient standard as it can be used to create an easy-to-remember text without human input. Why is it a good thing? It’s because it’s quite difficult to create a phrase consisting of a random set of words on your own as in the vast majority of cases human brain will subconsciously try to link words to some terms, events or dates it knows or relates to. 

User-entered words are considered unsafe for cryptography purposes by default. To ensure your wallet is protected against password hacking algorithms and technologies that currently exist in abundance, words for the phrase must be selected randomly. BIP39 is designed to ensure reliable protection for users. 

Mnemonic phrase for the UMI wallet ensures your coins are reliably protected

Though some developers think 12 words are enough for wallet protection, 24 words are a more reliable combination which is why official UMI wallets use the latter option. UMI ensures the highest security level which is why our mnemonic phrases contain the optimal number of words corresponding to the most reliable, 256-bit BIP39 standard.

Official UMI wallet uses the secure BIP39 standard.

UMI protects its wallets using the 256-bit standard. Therefore, our mnemonic phrases contain 24 words. 

We’re certain you now understand why you cannot insert your own words into the mnemonic phrase for your UMI wallet. Let’s recap why:

  1. UMI wallets use the safe, popular and convenient BIP39 standard that is compatible with other wallets and cryptocurrencies. It will allow us to design new technological solutions related to other crypto industry projects in the future. For instance, it’ll make it easier to embed UMI in other crypto wallets and, technically, use the same mnemonic phrase for different cryptocurrencies. 
  1. According to the standard, each word in a mnemonic phrase is an integral part of a private key specifically generated for your wallet. The phrase won’t work even if a single letter is changed, let alone a word.
  1. It’s not recommended to make a mnemonic phrase using your own words, not to compromise your coins. At any rate, a mathematical algorithm is more effective than man in selecting words for the phrases — a randomly generated phrase is a lot more reliable than any password even if you think it’s really complicated. 

Nonetheless, the UMI network does not restrict developers of wallets and other apps in any way. In the future, we might have non-official wallets where you can use a mnemonic phrase consisting of your own words. The BIP39 standard for the official wallet is just a recommendation. 

We hope that this article has helped you understand the subject and find exhaustive answers to all your questions. Now you know that you can use official UMI wallet without fear for you coins — they’re completely safe and secure. 

Sincerely yours, UMI Team! 

P. S. In the future articles, we’ll tell you about the rules to store your mnemonic phrase — and coins — safely.