What to do when you lose your Seed Phrase, Secret Recovery Phrase or Mnemonic? What to do if I lost access to my wallet but have the 12 / 24 words recovery phrase and What if I lost my mnemonic but can still access my wallet? Here in this article we’ll discuss about recovery phrase and how to deal with lost mnemonic seed.
We’ve already discussed enough about the importance of recovery seed, how it works with crypto wallet and how crucial they are in protecting your assets.
Mnemonic Seed / Recovery Phrase
Recovery phrase, mnemonic secret code, seed phrase, wallet backup are all commonly used terms that is most important for your cryptocurrency security. You need to better understand this to backup your crypto assets. Your wallet seed phrase also called as mnemonic seed is a 12, 18 or 24 random words that make up your wallet’s private key. The wallet relies on these words to generate private key for all your accounts and the words in your mnemonic seed aren’t just any random words. The seed words are derived from BIP39 standard. The words are pulled from a specific list of 2048 English words known as the BIP39 word list and is implemented by most cryptocurrency wallets.
Most wallets these days uses BIP39 mnemonic phrase which is a set of easy to remember words that serve as a wallet backup. In case if your wallet stops working, gets compromised, is lost or destroyed you can use your mnemonic seed to recovery your wallet and its coins.
Whether its a hardware wallet, software wallet, desktop, online or a web wallet. When you first setup a new wallet the wallet will generate a seed phrase for you. You’ll also be prompted to write the words down and store it in a safe place. Hope you’ve written it down and stored it safely offline.
This seed phrase is crucial because it is the only way for you to restore your wallet and regain access in case if you lost access or locked out of your wallet. So backup the seed phrase and keep it as a secret. Make sure the order of the words are exactly as show by your wallet. If you mess up then you cannot restore your wallet.
Wallet backup that is the recovery phrase / mnemonic seed is not stored anywhere. Not on your wallet and not on any online servers. Most wallets do not even provide you an option to see the seed again particularly the hardware wallets. You can test / check if your recovery is correct but you can’t extract seed from the hardware device. Here is how to test Trezor seed backup and here is a guide to perform recovery check on Ledger device.
Make sure you have the recovery backup copy with you all the time. If you lose this then you’ll never be able to access your crypto again and nobody can help you access your wallet. Also remember that no one should ever have access to your mnemonic seed phrases. The recovery phrase should be kept as a secret so do not ever share it with anyone. If someone gets access to it then they‘ll gain access to your wallet.
Mnemonic seed is the master seed that you need to prove ownership of your assets in case of any unforeseen circumstances such as lost wallet, PIN etc. So remember to never ever leak out this information. And never enter secret phrase or your private keys online, on a shady website or any where else other than your wallet. Always back up your secret recovery phrase offline and store it somewhere safe.
To additionally protect your wallet backup that is recovery phrase you can also add a “passphrase” to the end of your seed. That way if someone has access to your recovery phrase your assets will have second layer of protection. Passphrases can be long strings that can include special characters and even spaces. Most wallets supports the addition of passphrase. Learn how to setup passphrase on Trezor device. And here is how to setup passphrase on Ledger device. However note that with passphrase enabled wallet, forgetting the passphrase means you’ll lose access to your wallet forever even if you have the recover phrase. For this reason passphrases are only recommended for advanced users.
Alright! Now let’s see what to do if Mnemonic seed is lost and what to do if you lost access to wallet but have the recovery phrase?
Lost wallet access but have recovery phrase
If I lost access to my wallet will I lose all of my coins? No, It doesn’t matter whether your wallet is lost or destroyed. As long as you have your recovery phrase you can completely recover your wallet and all of its assets.
Most BIP39 wallets has the option called “Restore from Backup” where you’ll be asked to enter your 12 or 24 word recovery words. Type the words in exact order and your wallet should be completely recovered and all your accounts / assets will be restored. The recovery should happen like nothing went wrong.
Remember that the order of the words matter. There is a checksum that checks the integrity of your 24 words seed and if you misplace the order of just one word then you can’t gain access back to your wallet.
Lost my mnemonic seed
What if I lost my secret recovery phrase, seed phrase, or mnemonic? Lost Mnemonic Seed? First of all, don’t panic.
Do you have your wallet device and can you still access it? If yes, then nothing to worry. Here is what you need to do. Create a new wallet and send all of your coins to your new wallet. Make sure this time you secure the new seed.
Remember to move your funds off the wallet / device ASAP. Because you are just a single failure away from losing it all. And if it is a hardware device you only have 3 PIN attempts after that the device will get reset. Here is what you need to do to secure your funds.
- Access your wallet and send all of your coins to an exchange of your choice. Or you can send everything to a software wallet.
- Once send and the coins are successfully transferred to other wallet / exchange account you can reset your current wallet device. Make sure you see the coins in your exchange account or secondary wallet and only reset after the transfer is successful.
- After resetting your wallet device create a new wallet on the same device by generating a new seed. Make sure to backup the seed this time. Once the seed is backed up resend all your coins back to your new wallet address to the newly seeded device.
Okay, now the above tip works only if you’re unable to fund your mnemonic seed but have the PIN / password and can access the wallet.
However if you don’t have access to your wallet and also lost your recovery phrase then you are hopeless. Unfortunately you have lost your coins and you can’t regain access until you find your seed again.
Lost / messed up mnemonic seed order?
Recently one of our users stated that they had a 12 word mnemonic seed created by a wallet many years ago. They have written down the seed phrase on paper but unfortunately they messed up the order and couldn’t guess the right order. What should be done if you messed up your mnemonic seed order?
If you are certain that your 12 words are correct but only the order is wrong then there is a way to brute force. With 12 words there are 479,001,600 possible combinations and if you know the address from the wallet then you can figure out the seed. There are tools that can help you with this.
You can use this tool if you have the seed words but the ordering is unknown. Note: This is only practical with a 12 word recovery seed phrase. It can also be used to guess the 24 word seed but only if you know the correct position of the other 12 words.
Seed Savior: Mnemonic Phrase Recovery Tool
This tool is designed to help users with recovering a slightly incorrect mnemonic phrase. It is 100% open-source code. So you can get the source code from the repository and use this tool without having to be online. We advise using such tools on a air-gapped computer that has no WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth or other networking capability.
Enter your existing BIP39 mnemonic and the tool will get derived addresses in various formats. Using block explorer you can then check whether the particular address has a transaction history.
If a word is wrong then the tool will suggest you with the closest option. If any one word is missing or unknown then type “?” and the tool will try to find all the relevant options.
For example if you do not know the 12th word of a 24 word seed then type ? at 12th word like this:
“concert lend session various disease egg satisfy cup rude choice device ? thing world plunge barely flame hospital wine jacket tide dice infant betray”
It’ll use your computer CPU power to do the calculation. Have patience while its doing its work. Once it done its calculation the tool will suggest several options for the missing word by validating the checksum. To find the relevant one click on each of the BTC or Ethereum address shown and find one with transaction history. If you already know the address then it becomes much easier for you to figure out the missing word.
Know BIP39 word list
Most mnemonic seed that is the wallet recovery phrase are derived from BIP39 word list. Check out this link: https://github.com/bitcoin/bips/blob/master/bip-0039/english.txt
In a BIP39 recovery phrase there is a standard list of 2048 words used. If you are just missing one word from your 12 or 24 word recovery phrase then it is easy to find the particular missing word. There are many python scripts available online or you can use the Seed Savior: Mnemonic Phrase Recovery Tool
In the list of 2048 words the first 4 letters of each word are unique. That is you can’t find another word with the same first 4 letters. For example let’s take the word “dinosaur”. The first four letter is “dino”. There is no any other word in the BIP39 wordlist that start with dino other than dinosaur. But there are many 3 letter word with same characters. For example the word “cup” has no more letters after it. And then there is a word called “cupboard” starting with the same first 3 letters.
In other words there are no two words in the BIP39 word list with the same first 4 characters. So if you just know the first 4 letters then you can figure out the right word by looking at the BIP39 word list. In most wallets when restoring seed you don’t even have to enter the full word. Once the first 4 letters are entered the wallet will automatically fill in the rest of the word.
Lost one word from Mnemonic code
Its quite a rare case for someone to have all the words from mnemonic seed except for one. If one of the word is not on your backup list, then you must have mis-wrote it. You should try to find the similar word from the mnemonic list. If you truly know all the words in correct order except for one, then there are tools to brute force the phrase. Tools like BTC recover can calculate the single missing word, whether it is a first word or last word. You can also use the Seed Savior: Mnemonic Phrase Recovery Tool.
The BIP39 mnemonic dictionary contains only 2048 words. If you only have 11 out of 12 word mnemonic seed phrase and if your are positive that the missive word is last word or first word or any nth word then it is theoretically possible to brute force the left out word. There are 2048 possible combinations out of which only ~128 of them are valid. The last word is a checksum and the script will iterate over the 2048 words (basically a dictionary attack) until it finds the write wallet address with non zero balance.
However note that it is only possible if you know the position of the word that is lost. Ie. If you had 11 out of 12 and if you are not sure about the first or last word then using the Python script you can print all the valid ones.
There are also occurrences where you would have made a slight mistake when writing down the mnemonic seed. It is possible to fix that as well. For example if you have 2 or more copies of your recovery sheet and the mnemonic seem to match except for one or two word then probably you might have mistyped it. In BIP39 English word list there are similar looking words like for example “awake”, “aware”. Or your backup should contain the word “vague”, instead you might have mistyped it as “vauge”. If your mnemonic has spelling errors then go over the wordlist here: https://github.com/bitcoin/bips/blob/master/bip-0039/english.txt and pick the correct one manually. If you even have a slight clue about the missing word then it is possible to manually find the one that matches your suspicion.
Missing 2 or more words from recovery phrase
If you are missing just one word from a 12 or 24 word seed phrase, and if you know the position of the missing word, then chances are you’ll be able to recover your wallet. However if you are missing multiple words ie. if you lost 2 out of 24 words, 3 words out of 12 word recovery phrase or anything more then you are simply out of luck. In this case it doesn’t matter whether you are sure of the order for the mnemonic seed. With more missing numbers the possible combinations greatly increases. Simply brute forcing them “all” combinations will be really hard and is computationally not possible.
A dictionary attack to hash out the mnemonic phase is very difficult. With each additional missing word the number of possibilities massively increases, whether it is a 12 word mnemonic or 24 word mnemonic. Using a modern PC it is possible to dictionary attack a single word. But if you are missing 2 or more words then attempting to “dictionary attack to find the correct word is nearly impossible. Using Today’s computing power solving; that is brute forcing could take more than a million CPU years. No chance the wallet is recoverable.
Self custody gives complete control over your finances but is not meant for everyone. It takes huge responsibility. If you lost your recovery phrase then lessons learned for the next time.