Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009. It follows the ideas set out in a white paper by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, whose true identity has yet to be verified. Bitcoin offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms and is operated by a decentralized authority, unlike government-issued currencies.
In 2017, the Bitcoin project and its community split in two. Perhaps the least controversial way to refer to each side is simply by their respective ticker symbols, BTC and BCH. Bitcoin Cash is usually represented by the BCH ticker symbol and is considered by its supporters to be the legitimate continuation of the Bitcoin project as peer-to-peer digital cash.
The bitcoin blockchain is a public ledger that records bitcoin transactions.[64] It is implemented as a chain of blocks, each block containing a hash of the previous block up to the genesis block[a] of the chain. A network of communicating nodes running bitcoin software maintains the blockchain.[30]:215–219 Transactions of the form payer X sends Y bitcoins to payee Z are broadcast to this network using readily available software applications.
Bitcoin mining operations take a lot of effort and power, and the sheer amount of competition makes it difficult for newcomers to enter the race and profit. A new miner would not only need to have adequate computing power and the knowledge to use it to outcompete the competition, but would also need the extensive amount of capital necessary to fund the operations.
In December 2013, Overstock.com[87] announced plans to accept bitcoin in the second half of 2014. On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins.[88] After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped,[89] and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services.[90] Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency had been illegal in China since at least 2009.[91]
Security Risk: Bitcoin exchanges are entirely digital and, as with any virtual system, are at risk from hackers, malware and operational glitches. If a thief gains access to a Bitcoin owner's computer hard drive and steals his private encryption key, he could transfer the stolen Bitcoins to another account. (Users can prevent this only if bitcoins are stored on a computer which is not connected to the internet, or else by choosing to use a paper wallet – printing out the Bitcoin private keys and addresses, and not keeping them on a computer at all.) Hackers can also target Bitcoin exchanges, gaining access to thousands of accounts and digital wallets where bitcoins are stored. One especially notorious hacking incident took place in 2014, when Mt. Gox, a Bitcoin exchange in Japan, was forced to close down after millions of dollars worth of bitcoins were stolen.

Network nodes can validate transactions, add them to their copy of the ledger, and then broadcast these ledger additions to other nodes. To achieve independent verification of the chain of ownership each network node stores its own copy of the blockchain.[65] About every 10 minutes, a new group of accepted transactions, called a block, is created, added to the blockchain, and quickly published to all nodes, without requiring central oversight. This allows bitcoin software to determine when a particular bitcoin was spent, which is needed to prevent double-spending. A conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, but the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.[3]:ch. 5
On 18 March 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (or FinCEN), a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury, issued a report regarding centralized and decentralized "virtual currencies" and their legal status within "money services business" (MSB) and Bank Secrecy Act regulations.[61][66] It classified digital currencies and other digital payment systems such as bitcoin as "virtual currencies" because they are not legal tender under any sovereign jurisdiction. FinCEN cleared American users of bitcoin of legal obligations[66] by saying, "A user of virtual currency is not an MSB under FinCEN's regulations and therefore is not subject to MSB registration, reporting, and recordkeeping regulations." However, it held that American entities who generate "virtual currency" such as bitcoins are money transmitters or MSBs if they sell their generated currency for national currency: "...a person that creates units of convertible virtual currency and sells those units to another person for real currency or its equivalent is engaged in transmission to another location and is a money transmitter." This specifically extends to "miners" of the bitcoin currency who may have to register as MSBs and abide by the legal requirements of being a money transmitter if they sell their generated bitcoins for national currency and are within the United States.[59] Since FinCEN issued this guidance, dozens of virtual currency exchangers and administrators have registered with FinCEN, and FinCEN is receiving an increasing number of suspicious activity reports (SARs) from these entities.[175]
Mining is a record-keeping service done through the use of computer processing power.[e] Miners keep the blockchain consistent, complete, and unalterable by repeatedly grouping newly broadcast transactions into a block, which is then broadcast to the network and verified by recipient nodes.[64] Each block contains a SHA-256 cryptographic hash of the previous block,[64] thus linking it to the previous block and giving the blockchain its name.[3]:ch. 7[64]

Recall that unique addresses are a proxy for the number of users, because they indicate how many non-zero Bitcoin addresses are in use. This metric has its strengths and weaknesses, which I wrote about here. Also, I have reviewed several other pricing methods which attempt to do the same thing using Metcalfe's Law. You can find those here and here.
The proof-of-work system, alongside the chaining of blocks, makes modifications of the blockchain extremely hard, as an attacker must modify all subsequent blocks in order for the modifications of one block to be accepted.[81] As new blocks are mined all the time, the difficulty of modifying a block increases as time passes and the number of subsequent blocks (also called confirmations of the given block) increases.[64]
Because of bitcoin's decentralized nature and its trading on online exchanges located in many countries, regulation of bitcoin has been difficult. However, the use of bitcoin can be criminalized, and shutting down exchanges and the peer-to-peer economy in a given country would constitute a de facto ban.[164] The legal status of bitcoin varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. Regulations and bans that apply to bitcoin probably extend to similar cryptocurrency systems.[165]
On 12 March 2013, a bitcoin miner running version 0.8.0 of the bitcoin software created a large block that was considered invalid in version 0.7 (due to an undiscovered inconsistency between the two versions). This created a split or "fork" in the blockchain since computers with the recent version of the software accepted the invalid block and continued to build on the diverging chain, whereas older versions of the software rejected it and continued extending the blockchain without the offending block. This split resulted in two separate transaction logs being formed without clear consensus, which allowed for the same funds to be spent differently on each chain. In response, the Mt. Gox exchange temporarily halted bitcoin deposits.[172] The exchange rate fell 23% to $37 on the Mt. Gox exchange but rose most of the way back to its prior level of $48.[56][57]
Bitcoin continued to decline during early 2018, before eventually stabilizing at around $7,000 per coin. It has remained in the $6,000 to $7,000 range since June, and the volatility that characterised the market in 2017 and early 2018 has all but evaporated. On its 10-year anniversary, bitcoin is trading at $6,305 per coin, according to Markets Insider.
Bitcoin is in the very early stages of acceptance, and although it is already accepted as a means of payment by numerous merchants, it has yet to become more widely accepted and “mainstream.” This could change, however, as more and more users are attracted to cryptocurrencies for the various potential benefits they may provide. In fact, investors have been flocking to the currency in significant numbers, and some even feel that eventually Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies could replace other traditional payment methods.
Investigations into the real identity of Satoshi Nakamoto were attempted by The New Yorker and Fast Company. The New Yorker's investigation brought up at least two possible candidates: Michael Clear and Vili Lehdonvirta. Fast Company's investigation brought up circumstantial evidence linking an encryption patent application filed by Neal King, Vladimir Oksman and Charles Bry on 15 August 2008, and the bitcoin.org domain name which was registered 72 hours later. The patent application (#20100042841) contained networking and encryption technologies similar to bitcoin's, and textual analysis revealed that the phrase "... computationally impractical to reverse" appeared in both the patent application and bitcoin's whitepaper.[11] All three inventors explicitly denied being Satoshi Nakamoto.[31][32]
In September 2015, the establishment of the peer-reviewed academic journal Ledger (ISSN 2379-5980) was announced. It covers studies of cryptocurrencies and related technologies, and is published by the University of Pittsburgh.[239] The journal encourages authors to digitally sign a file hash of submitted papers, which will then be timestamped into the bitcoin blockchain. Authors are also asked to include a personal bitcoin address in the first page of their papers.[240][241]
In January 2012, bitcoin was featured as the main subject within a fictionalized trial on the CBS legal drama The Good Wife in the third-season episode "Bitcoin for Dummies". The host of CNBC's Mad Money, Jim Cramer, played himself in a courtroom scene where he testifies that he doesn't consider bitcoin a true currency, saying "There's no central bank to regulate it; it's digital and functions completely peer to peer".[49]
Josiah is an assistant editor at CCN. A former ancient and medieval literature teacher, he has been reporting on cryptocurrency since 2014. He lives in rural North Carolina with his wife and children. He holds investment positions in bitcoin and other large-cap cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter @Y3llowb1ackbird or email him directly at josiah.wilmoth(at)ccn.com.
The proof-of-work system, alongside the chaining of blocks, makes modifications of the blockchain extremely hard, as an attacker must modify all subsequent blocks in order for the modifications of one block to be accepted.[81] As new blocks are mined all the time, the difficulty of modifying a block increases as time passes and the number of subsequent blocks (also called confirmations of the given block) increases.[64]
Since its launch in 2009, Bitcoin has proven to be a profitable investment for those who owned it initially. Having bought it for only $50 back then, one can now earn high revenues, as now its price has grown hundreds of times larger. Observing the popularity of BTC to USD exchange operations, there are immense opportunities to gain benefits from the Bitcoin trade. After the coin was launched, it cost $0.003 on April 25, 2010, at BitcoinMarket.com, which was the first cryptocurrency exchange. Starting at that time, the Bitcoin to dollar exchange rate has increased dramatically, and some of the initial owners gained earnings of over thousand percent. Now, while some users may be simply attracted by the potential of growing prices, many buyers believe that the currency itself has a high level of volatility. According to some financial specialists, it is even more volatile than gold. And some individuals believe that Bitcoin has the potential to replace fiat money in the future.
With no ties to a national economy and lofty goals, Bitcoin's price is famously volatile. Prices have soared and plummeted in the wake of various national policies, financial deals, competing cryptocurrencies, and fluctuating public opinion. On the other hand, as many sovereign nations find themselves with currencies that are also vulnerable, the citizens of countries such as China and Venezuela are turning increasingly to virtual currencies.
Regulatory Risk: Bitcoins are a rival to government currency and may be used for black market transactions, money laundering, illegal activities or tax evasion. As a result, governments may seek to regulate, restrict or ban the use and sale of bitcoins, and some already have. Others are coming up with various rules. For example, in 2015, the New York State Department of Financial Services finalized regulations that would require companies dealing with the buy, sell, transfer or storage of bitcoins to record the identity of customers, have a compliance officer and maintain capital reserves. The transactions worth $10,000 or more will have to be recorded and reported.
×