MetaMask Review – How does it work + Is it safe to use?
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The world of cryptocurrencies is expanding at an unabating rate.
What started with a mere blockchain technology known as Bitcoin in 2009, has evolved into a whole industry of its own.
Many newer cryptocurrencies make their way into the crypto-markets with each passing day. With newer blockchain technologies have emerged on to the realm of crypto-scenes in order to support the acceptance and application of the cryptocurrencies at a wider scale.
Today, there are many ambitious blockchain projects that are operating in the market with a clear goal of providing ease to the users in accessing and managing their cryptocurrencies.
One of these examples i MetaMask.
Similarly, the wallets that store your crypto-coins have seen tremendous advancement in the previous years. MetaMask is one example.
It is one of the most highly anticipated crypto-wallet related project in the industry.
This article will shed some light on this ambitious project.
Covering some basic questions like what MetaMask is, how to use it, what are its pros and cons and the security features that it provides to its users.
So let’s just dig deeper into it!
What is MetaMask?
The official website at https://metamask.io/ describes the purpose of MetaMask in the following words:
“MetaMask is a bridge that allows you to visit the distributed web of tomorrow in your browser today. It allows you to run Ethereum dApps right in your browser without running a full Ethereum node.”
This statement might still be very unclear to many readers.
To put things into perspective, the browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Safari that we are using currently, are built on a centralized web.
When blockchain technology was created, it decided to revamp the whole web networking infrastructure, turning it into a decentralized model.
However, the decentralized web is still a thing of the future, as it will take time to inculcate itself in everyday life.
MetaMask is acting like a medium that allows people to access this decentralized web, working on the Ethereum blockchain, from your mainstream browsers.
However, to describe MetaMask as a bridge between decentralized applications and the centralized web browsers is a very crude way of describing it.
In fact, MetaMask is a cryptocurrency wallet service, available as a free browser extension that let the users access Ethereum blockchain network and ERC-20 tokens.
It would be worthwhile to discuss what a cryptocurrency wallet is and how it works, as it would help us understand the pros and cons of MetaMask in an effective way.
Cryptocurrencies are often dubbed as an alternative to fiat currencies (USD, EUR, JPY, etc).
While fiat currencies can be stored in a wallet placed inside your pocket, the same cannot be said for cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrencies do not exist in a physical form.
The information related to individual tokens and transactions on the blockchain network is stored in the distributed ledgers on the blockchain network itself.
Crypto-tokens can be moved over the network, and stored within it, but you can’t withdraw it outside the network.
The users can protect their coins and tokens using wallet services which makes use of public and private keys to introduce a layer of security (public vs private key explanation).
Now, there are several different kinds of wallets, including hardware wallets, web wallets and desktop wallets, the details of which will not be discussed in this article.
The readers are encouraged, however, to read about the different kind of wallets to increase their understanding (learn more here).
What is enough for the scope of this article, is to know that there are several different kinds of wallet services which the users can use to store their cryptocurrency.
MetaMask is a type of cryptocurrency wallet. The way it works is the unique feature that it possesses.
It is available as a free extension on three browsers namely Chrome, Firefox and Brave.
It allows the users to access the Ethereum blockchain from the centralized web, and store keys for Ether and other ERC-20 tokens.
Okay, so that is quite normal – a wallet service to store keys for ERC-20 tokens. But what else can MetaMask do? And there must be something that it cannot do…
MetaMask: Pros and Cons
The MetaMask project has been making news since 2016 when it was first launched for the crypto-community. And it has since evolved into on the most popular choice for Ether and ERC-20 tokens.
Perhaps, one of the most striking features about MetaMask is that it’s open-source. Which perhaps pushes the notion of decentralization.
That means anyone can help speed up the development, review or improve the existing software.
Secondly, MetaMask comes with an internally integrated cryptocurrency trading exchange.
So other than the wallet services, it provides a way to buy ERC-20 tokens from within the platform.
MetaMask also provides its users with Hierarchical Deterministic Account settings, which can be very helpful to recover information related to lost accounts.
Another distinguishing feature of MetaMask is that it stores the private keys of the users’ tokens on the local browser of the user.
This gives the user some more control over their keys. This is unlike many other wallet services, a majority of which store the keys on their own database servers.
MetaMask has a very active and responsive customer support and a very user-friendly interface among other benefits.
It also has a large community that is are often seen promoting and improving the MetaMask service.
However, MetaMask has its share of shortcomings.
The first one comes from the fact that MetaMask runs on mainstream browsers.
While Brave allows for greater privacy control by letting you customise your browser settings.
But Chrome and Firefox are known notoriously in the crypto-community, especially for collecting user information and tracking their browsing activity.
The browsers are not able to access the wallet keys and private codes of a user, but can still track how they use the app. Many users can be uncomfortable with this.
Another con of MetaMask, is very similar to many other online wallet-services i.e. it is online!
And here it becomes vulnerable to cyber-attacks and hacking.
This brings a disadvantage to MetaMask in terms of its security.
It is a proven standard in the crypto-community that online wallets are comparatively unsafe than offline ones.
However, the readers must not confuse this disadvantage as a security loophole in MetaMask, because it is not. Online wallets are not as secure as offline wallets.
So in essence MetaMask itself is not less safe, rather online wallets are not as safe as offline wallet alternatives.
How to use MetaMask?
Ok to explain to answer the question how does MetaMask work in more detail I will give you an overview of the overall steps to using it.
Inorder to setup and start using MetaMask on your local desktop, it is important that you have either Chrome, Firefox or Brave installed on your system. The rest of the procedure is pretty straightforward.
When you have downloaded and installed the extension you will be able to see a cute little fox icon on your browser.
Clicking on this extension icon, you will open the MetaMask application.
The user can now join the application by creating a new vault, and set a strong password.
Password for wallets are a study in itself. There are many web applications which can help you generate an absolutely random and long password.
When the vault is created, MetaMask will provide you with a 12-word seed phrase.
This is a crucial piece of information as it will be needed in case you lose the information regarding your vault.
Write and save this seed-phrase somewhere on your desktop, and also somewhere offline.
There you have it! A MetaMask wallet where you can use the main Ethereum network and access any dApp if you wish. You can use the wallet service to send and receive any supported ERC-20 token through MetaMask.
MetaMask – Security
It would be worthwhile to gauge MetaMask a little more from the security point of view.
We have already discussed how online wallets can be more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than offline wallets. That is not in control of MetaMask, it is a shortcoming by default in every online wallet service.
Now what is in MetaMask’s control is to provide sufficient protection against these attacks, and the record looks impressive.
MetaMask has not suffered any major hacks since its creation in 2016. It also provides its users with an additional feature of Hierarchical Deterministic Account settings.
While MetaMask on its own is quite adamant to provide top-notch security, cyber-attacks are very tricky to eliminate altogether.
I recommended you to only store small values of tokens in any online wallet, and this advice is applicable here as well.
I would instead recommend everyone to look into purchasing as a so-called hardware wallet, for example, Ledger. or Trezor. These wallets provide the highest security standards necessary to protect your cryptocurrency funds.
This was a brief overview of the MetaMask wallet application.
It has evolved tremendously both in terms of its technology and its user-base since its creation in 2016. It stays one of the go-to wallet service for Ethereum and other ERC-20 tokens especially because of the ease of access it provides.
A user can use their normal browser to access the decentralized web and experience its benefits without having to run an Ethereum node.
MetaMask is a great extension of one needs to store small amount of digital tokens.
More helpful guides:
- Beginner’s guide to investing in cryptos
- Our best tips to protect your cryptos
- What 2FA is and why you should use it
- What crypto volatility is
Hello and welcome to Go Cryptowise.
My name is Per Englund and I’m a long-term fan and investor of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. I’ve been around the space for a good few years, learning how it all works and to be a part of this engaging community.
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