Steem’s key system is unique: it gives progressively greater control to users depending on which key they use. It can be difficult and non-intuitive to understand, but each key plays an important role. It may help to substitute the term “password” for “keys”.

Let’s take a look at how this system works and why each Steem key is important to understand.

Three Keys

The three Steem keys each have a different title. Here they are, in order from least powerful to most:

  1. Posting key
  2. Active key
  3. Owner key

We’ll take a look at these one by one in just a moment, but I’d like to draw a quick comparison to real world examples of why this is important.

The Posting Key is similar to your car’s key fob. It lets you get into the car, and you can unlock the doors, but it doesn’t let you drive. Older drivers might remember when cars had a separate key for the door and the ignition.

The Active Key allows you to drive the car. This key goes into the ignition and allows you control of the vehicle. If you’re not careful, you can crash your car.

The Owner Key is like the car’s title. While the active key lets you drive around, you still need the owner key to actually own the car itself.

The analogy does break down a bit, so don’t get stuck on it as an exact representation so much as the varying levels of use/ownership each key represents.

Let’s dig deeper into what these keys mean for a Steemian.

Posting Key

The Posting Key is the least powerful of the three keys. The Posting Key allows Steemians to post articles and upvote/downvote comments, as well as reply to other Steem posts. A Steemian can use their Posting Key for most network interactions, although they cannot use it to send Steem.

The big advantage to the Posting Key is that you can use it on less secure devices without worrying about your account being stolen. For instance, I would not put an Ethereum private key onto my cell phone. With Ethereum (and with most cryptocurrencies), there is one private key to control each account. My Steem account, however, has three keys. I don’t worry about having my private Posting Key on my smartphone browser because the most somebody can do if they steal my phone is make some spammy posts. Once I have access to my Owner Key, however, I can update my Posting Key and prevent the thief from further abuse of my account.

In summary, the Posting Key allows:

  • Posting content to Steem
  • Login to Steemit.com
  • Upvoting and flagging others’ posts and comments
  • Commenting

Active Key

The Active Key is more powerful than the Posting Key, and allows you to send Steem to other accounts, convert SBDs to Steem, buy or sell Steem on the internal market, Power Up (and Power Down) Steem, and move Steem and SBDs to and from savings.

The Active Key is very important to keep safe, and you should keep it stored in a password manager such as LastPass or KeePass. I do not recommend keeping the Active Key on your cell phone or mobile device, unless it is encrypted well and you know how to change it if it gets lost. The Active Key is also used to log in to some Steem sites like Busy.org, and certain apps, like Steepshot.

If you lose your Active Key, or believe it to be compromised, expect any liquid Steem and SBDs to be sent to another account very quickly. You will need to use your Owner Key to change your Active Key and Posting Key to prevent further theft. More about the Owner Key below.

In summary, the Active Key allows:

  • Sending Steem and SBDs to other accounts
  • Powering up and Powering down Steem Power
  • Access to all funds in your account
  • Delegate/undelegate Steem Power
  • Vote for witnesses

Owner Key

The Owner Key is the master of all other keys. This is the most important key you have, and you must take steps to ensure it does not get lost. If you lose your Owner Key, you will likely lose your entire account.

The benefit of the Owner Key is that it’s much harder to convince somebody to use it (and therefore steal it). Steem apps require either the Posting or the Active Key to access, and will not ask for the Owner Key. If an app or website asks for the Owner Key, you can be sure it is not legitimate and you should close the link and move on.

In summary, the Owner Key allows:

  • Total and complete access to your Steem account
  • Changing all other keys

Conclusion

Hopefully, Steem’s keys seem much less complicated after reading this article. Remember, you should take precaution to ensure none of your keys are compromised. Always keep your keys safe! But do remember that you can assign different levels of risk to each, and that safeguarding your Owner Key is your top priority. Use a password manager at a minimum and never use your keys if you’re unsure of something!

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments if I did…I want to make sure nobody loses control of their account!

-Jeff

Psst: my website has a lot more information than just keys. Take a look at how you can grow your followers on Steem with these five hacks I put together.