Users in certain countries under US sanctions may have recently discovered that their MetaMask wallets have stopped working.
Such a situation is frustrating and it is very un-crypto, but because this is crypto, users have options.
Today, MetaMask drew attention with an updated support post that indicated how certain geographic areas can’t use the application. “By default, MetaMask accesses the blockchain via Infura, which is unavailable in certain jurisdictions due to legal compliance,” the new post on its support page said.
The company has not revealed which embargoed and sanctioned countries have been blocked, but apparently the shift happened recently because it overzealously shut out parts of Latin America that it should not have, according to Decrypt. The discrepancy has since been rectified.
If you are in one of these areas, does this mean that all of your assets are lost forever?
This is what’s nice about using blockchains. If Twitter decides to shut you out, you’re just done. You can’t get back in. There’s nothing you can do.
With Ethereum and other blockchains, that’s not the case. As long as no one else controls your seed phrase you can always just access Ethereum (and all your digital assets) using a different piece of wallet software.
Your seed phrase is a human-readable way of accessing your private key, that secret string of numbers and letters that lets you and only you control your stuff on Ethereum.
This is the crux of decentralization. Your stuff is not on MetaMask or Infura. Your stuff is on Ethereum, which is everywhere.
So, just because you live in an area that Infura won’t work in, that doesn’t mean that you’ve been “rugged.” This is not the kind of thing we expect in crypto, but you’re not without hope.
What to do if you’re a MetaMask user in a Geofenced Area
First, try using a virtual private network. That might spoof Infura. Let us know if it works.
Second, you can try switching your MetaMask wallet’s endpoint to Alchemy, an Infura competitor. Alchemy has detailed instructions for anyone who wants to use its servers rather than Infura’s.
Subsequent to publication, ConsenSys staff noted to The Defiant that Alchemy’s terms of service forbid subscribers from enabling use in countries embargoed by the United States.
Many have said that Ethereum’s decentralization claims are somewhat phony as long as so many applications lean heavily on Infura, and this geofencing issue seems to be a case in point.
MetaMask is client software that relies on Infura to read the Ethereum blockchain. Both products are part of ConsenSys Software, but users don’t have to rely on Infura. They can try switching their wallet to Alchemy, for example.
This is a developing story and The Defiant has not yet confirmed that switching to Alchemy will circumvent geofencing. Both Infura and Alchemy are run by US-based companies, so it might not. Alchemy declined to comment.
Lastly, even if neither of those things work, your assets are not lost. Users can always import their wallets into another piece of client software.
Remember, MetaMask is not your account, and it does not control your account. MetaMask is a way of interacting with your account which lives on the Ethereum blockchain.
It is similar to how you can access your email on the web, on your computer using something like Mozilla Thunderbird, and on your phone using Apple Mail.
Hopefully, anyone reading this already has a hard copy of their seed phrase written down and secured in a personal safe with a backup copy hidden in the back of their old high school yearbook or in a shoebox at their mom’s house.
If you don’t know where your seed phrase is, MetaMask has a how-to page on finding it again (it doesn’t need internet access to do this).
Click on Settings. Then scroll down to “Security and Privacy.” Click on “Reveal Secret Seed Phrase.” You’ll need the password you use with that wallet on that device to reveal it.
Copy it down on a piece of paper. Before going further, read this whole post, especially the next section on security.
Did you read about the warning about security below? Great.
Once you have your seed phrase ready, fire up a new piece of wallet software and look for an option to “import existing wallet” or “restore existing wallet” and click on that. It’s going to vary by wallet, but this is a general idea.
There are many MetaMask competitors you can try, but do your own research before using any of them. The catch here is that so many Ethereum tools also depend on Infura.
A new wallet called Tally, developed by Thesis, is billing itself as an open-source, community-owned wallet. It’s starting out using Alchemy instead, and Thesis’ Carolyn Recknow told The Defiant it is working to further decentralize its access to the blockchain before long.
But, even if none of this works, don’t fret if relying on American backends continues to stymie you. Your stuff is safe as long as your private key is safe. If nothing else works, you could consider getting some fellow Ethereans together locally and running your own node.
Stay Smart, Stay Safe
Scammers love moments of fear and confusion like this. They will try to use it to trick anyone behind the Infura curtain. Don’t get phished.
Remember, if you give your seed phrase to someone else, they have control of all your tokens. If they move them, it’s a done deal and no one can recover them for you.
So, if you decide to switch wallets, be sure that the new wallet software you use is legit. Search for it on Google and on Twitter. Ask people you know. Get some reassurance first. And doublecheck the URL!
One common trick is to buy a very similar URL to a trustworthy product, largely copy its website and then ask people to input their seed phrase in a way that actually sends it to an attacker.
So, be careful at that crucial moment of switching wallets. There is no rush. Your stuff is just sitting there and it will be fine. You might miss some alpha, but you won’t lose your assets.
One other thing to consider:
If you are holding really valuable assets on a MetaMask wallet, now might be a good time to consider getting most of the really expensive stuff off that wallet and onto a hardware wallet. This will cost you money in gas fees, but it could be worth it.
Remember, a MetaMask seed phrase is a “hot” seed phrase, because it has touched the internet. It’s not going to be as secure as a seed phrase generated directly on a hardware wallet. You can import your seed phrase to those devices, but you might want to consider following a different path to maximize security
Export your MetaMask wallet to another piece of hot wallet software that doesn’t use Infura. Then, fire up an all-new Ethereum wallet with a new seed phrase on a hardware wallet like Ledger or Trezor (copy it down on paper and put it in two safe places, again). Then, transfer your chosen assets to the new address using the new hot wallet.
Though it will cost some money, it will mean your stuff has moved to a wallet that has never exposed its seed phrase to the web.
But that’s extra credit.
For now, the bottom line is this: it’s a bummer that your region has been blotted out by Infura, but that doesn’t mean your assets are gone. No one can take your stuff as long as you’re the only person who knows your private key.