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Initially released in January 2009, Bitcoin prompted the boom of cryptocurrencies as we know them today. The value of Bitcoin since then has soared and continues to grow, with the current estimations suggesting that 1 Bitcoin holds the equivalent value of over 8000 US Dollars. This in turn has led financial commentators to dispute the longevity and volatility of cryptocurrencies, and whether they truly represent a viable alternative. Today there are over 1000 types of cryptocurrency available on the internet, from the original Bitcoin to Ethereum and Litecoin. But what is a cryptocurrency?
What are cryptocurrencies?
Satoshi Nakatomo, the name given to the unknown founder of Bitcoin, had wanted to establish a digital cash system which did not lie under the control of a central body. This digital currency allows users to both receive and send money over the internet with no link to a real identity. Cryptocurrencies allow the users to exchange money without the need fort any real-world identity. This is furthered by the fact that, due to the lack of central governing body, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin do not keep track of users, instead tracking the online addresses where the money is.
How do they work?
This online currency is protected by cryptography, hence cryptocurrency. This cryptography consists of 2 elements, or keys – one key is public while the other is private. These two keys are used in conjunction with one another, along with a form of mathematics known as public key cryptography, in order to allow the user to send money on the network. These transactions are then recorded on what is known as the blockchain, which documents all exchanges of currency, enabling it to keep record of what Bitcoin belongs to whom. The process of acquiring Bitcoin has been named mining, a process in which the user must solve automatically generated math problems, the difficulty of which depends on how many people are buying Bitcoin at that time. The difficulty of these problems means that they may only be solved by extremely powerful processors, which are then used in order to mine the Bitcoin. Miners mine for the newly generated Bitcoin and whoever solves the problem first is then given these new Bitcoins.
Bitcoin offers a decentralized body made up of your peers, whose accounts and balances are not determined by others or any kind of political influence. Although volatile, cryptocurrencies promise to maintain and increase in value over a period of time. They also represent a quick and easy way of payment on a worldwide basis. However, their volatility remains unquestionable. Frequently a coin will increase in value by 10% or even 100% a day, only to then lose that value the next day. Bitcoin remains the go-to currency in the world of crime, with its initial popularity initially hugely influenced by its use in the purchase of illegal goods.
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