Updated: Sep 4
A Cautionary Tale of Love, Loss, and the Perils of Underestimating Cryptographic Security
Bob thought he was invincible, both in love and money. He had amassed a small fortune in cryptocurrencies—around $100,000 worth. Believing he had outsmarted the markets, he divided his 12-word seed phrase into three parts, each containing four words. He knew that self-custody was so important. Holding his own keys ensured that he could never lose his money on a crypto exchange.
The first four words of his seed phrase were etched onto metal and went into a waterproof bag buried in his garden. The second four words were etched onto metal and went into a home office safe with a code only he knew—or so he thought. The last four words were etched into metal and placed in a safe deposit box at a bank.
What Bob didn't count on was Alice, his tech-savvy ex-girlfriend, whom he had cheated on multiple times. Although he had outsmarted the markets, he had never outsmarted Alice. She had suspected Bob of foul play long before she caught him. She also quietly noted his daughter's birthday was the password to his safe, which he kept in his home office.
Alice's chance for discovery came when she visited Bob's house to pick up some of her remaining belongings. Left alone in his home office, she quickly keyed in the birthday code to the safe. It swung open, revealing the seed phrase slip.
A few weeks later, Alice happened to pass by Bob's garden and remembered seeing him bury something there. Late that night, she returned and unearthed the waterproof bag, revealing another fragment of the seed phrase.
By now, Alice had 8 of the 12 words and knew that the computational task of figuring out the remaining four words was challenging but feasible. The original seed phrase had 2^128 bits of security; now it was down to just 2^44. Armed with this knowledge and still simmering from Bob's betrayal, Alice bought $20,000 worth of high-end GPUs.
Each GPU could handle 10 million guesses per second, and she had a dozen of them. Doing the math, she figured it would take roughly 50 hours to brute-force her way through 2^44 combinations. After all the heartache and betrayal, two days seemed like nothing.
The rig came to life, its GPUs humming like a symphony of revenge. After nearly 48 hours, her screen flashed: "Match Found." She had cracked the remaining four words. After recovering the wallet on the Trust Wallet app with the seed phrase, she saw Bob's balance—just over $100,000—and promptly transferred it to another wallet.
Bob never found out what hit him. His crypto fortune was gone, and all he was left with was the hollow confidence of a man who thought he was too smart to be outsmarted.
As for Alice, she drove off into the sunset in a new car liberated and uplifted, both financially and emotionally. Behind her, she left a cautionary tale of how not to underestimate either the sophistication of crypto algorithms or the resolve of a woman scorned.
In love and cryptography, as it turns out, cutting corners can cost you dearly. And sometimes, the one who knows your vulnerabilities best is the one you should never have underestimated.
Note from the author: Calculations in this fictional tale were provided by GPT-4.