User Mental Models of Cryptocurrency Systems - A Grounded Theory Approach


Alexandra Mai and Katharina Pfeffer, SBA Research; Matthias Gusenbauer, Tokyo Institute of Technology, SBA Research; Edgar Weippl, University of Vienna; Katharina Krombholz, CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security


Frequent reports of monetary loss, fraud, and user-caused security incidents in the context of cryptocurrencies emphasize the need for human-centered research in this domain. We contribute the first qualitative user study (N=29) on user mental models of cryptocurrency systems and the associated threat landscape. Using Grounded Theory, we reveal misconceptions affecting users' security and privacy.

Our results suggest that current cryptocurrency tools (e.g., wallets and exchanges) are not capable of counteracting threats caused by these misconceptions. Hence, users frequently fail to securely manage their private keys or assume to be anonymous when they are not. Based on our findings, we contribute actionable advice, grounded in the mental models of users, to improve the usability and secure usage of cryptocurrency systems.

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@inproceedings {255652,
author = {Alexandra Mai and Katharina Pfeffer and Matthias Gusenbauer and Edgar Weippl and Katharina Krombholz},
title = {User Mental Models of Cryptocurrency Systems - A Grounded Theory Approach},
booktitle = {Sixteenth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS 2020)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-16-8},
pages = {341--358},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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