Researchers have pointed out at a "trend towards centralization". Although bitcoin can be sent directly from user to user, in practice intermediaries are widely used.:220–222 Bitcoin miners join large mining pools to minimize the variance of their income.:215, 219–222:3 Because transactions on the network are confirmed by miners, decentralization of the network requires that no single miner or mining pool obtains 51% of the hashing power, which would allow them to double-spend coins, prevent certain transactions from being verified and prevent other miners from earning income. As of 2013 just six mining pools controlled 75% of overall bitcoin hashing power. In 2014 mining pool Ghash.io obtained 51% hashing power which raised significant controversies about the safety of the network. The pool has voluntarily capped their hashing power at 39.99% and requested other pools to act responsibly for the benefit of the whole network. c. 2017 over 70% of the hashing power and 90% of transactions were operating from China.
You don‘t need to understand the details about SHA 256. It‘s only important you know that it can be the basis of a cryptologic puzzle the miners compete to solve. After finding a solution, a miner can build a block and add it to the blockchain. As an incentive, he has the right to add a so-called coinbase transaction that gives him a specific number of Bitcoins. This is the only way to create valid Bitcoins.
While cryptocurrencies are digital currencies that are managed through advanced encryption techniques, many governments have taken a cautious approach toward them, fearing their lack of central control and the effects they could have on financial security. Regulators in several countries have warned against cryptocurrency and some have taken concrete regulatory measures to dissuade users. Additionally, many banks do not offer services for cryptocurrencies and can refuse to offer services to virtual-currency companies. Gareth Murphy, a senior central banking officer has stated "widespread use [of cryptocurrency] would also make it more difficult for statistical agencies to gather data on economic activity, which are used by governments to steer the economy". He cautioned that virtual currencies pose a new challenge to central banks' control over the important functions of monetary and exchange rate policy. While traditional financial products have strong consumer protections in place, there is no intermediary with the power to limit consumer losses if bitcoins are lost or stolen. One of the features cryptocurrency lacks in comparison to credit cards, for example, is consumer protection against fraud, such as chargebacks.
In Charles Stross' 2013 science fiction novel, Neptune's Brood, the universal interstellar payment system is known as "bitcoin" and operates using cryptography. Stross later blogged that the reference was intentional, saying "I wrote Neptune's Brood in 2011. Bitcoin was obscure back then, and I figured had just enough name recognition to be a useful term for an interstellar currency: it'd clue people in that it was a networked digital currency."
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Ethereum is the pioneer for blockchain based smart contracts. When running on the blockchain a smart contract becomes like a self-operating computer program that automatically executes when specific conditions are met. On the blockchain, smart contracts allow for code to be run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third-party interference. It can facilitate the exchange of money, content, property, shares, or anything of value. The Ethereum network went live on July 30th, 2015 with 72 million Ethereum premined.
Ethereum was officially with an unusually long list of founders. Anthony Di Iorio wrote "Ethereum was founded by Vitalik Buterin, Myself, Charles Hoskinson, Mihai Alisie, & Amir Chetrit (the initial 5) in December 2013. Joseph Lubin, Gavin Wood, & Jeffrey Wilke were added in early 2014 as founders." Formal development of the Ethereum software project began in early 2014 through a Swiss company, Ethereum Switzerland GmbH (EthSuisse). The basic idea of putting executable smart contracts in the blockchain needed to be specified before the software could be implemented; this work was done by Gavin Wood, then chief technology officer, in the Ethereum Yellow Paper that specified the Ethereum Virtual Machine. Subsequently, a Swiss non-profit foundation, the Ethereum Foundation (Stiftung Ethereum), was created as well. Development was funded by an online public crowdsale during July–August 2014, with the participants buying the Ethereum value token (ether) with another digital currency, bitcoin.
In May 2018, Bitcoin Gold (and two other cryptocurrencies) were hit by a successful 51% hashing attack by an unknown actor, in which exchanges lost estimated $18m. In June 2018, Korean exchange Coinrail was hacked, losing US$37 million worth of altcoin. Fear surrounding the hack was blamed for a $42 billion cryptocurrency market selloff. On 9 July 2018 the exchange Bancor had $23.5 million in cryptocurrency stolen.
To understand the revolutionary impact of cryptocurrencies you need to consider both properties. Bitcoin as a permissionless, irreversible, and pseudonymous means of payment is an attack on the control of banks and governments over the monetary transactions of their citizens. You can‘t hinder someone to use Bitcoin, you can‘t prohibit someone to accept a payment, you can‘t undo a transaction.
To realize digital cash you need a payment network with accounts, balances, and transaction. That‘s easy to understand. One major problem every payment network has to solve is to prevent the so-called double spending: to prevent that one entity spends the same amount twice. Usually, this is done by a central server who keeps record about the balances.
In 2014, researchers at the University of Kentucky found "robust evidence that computer programming enthusiasts and illegal activity drive interest in bitcoin, and find limited or no support for political and investment motives". Australian researchers have estimated that 25% of all bitcoin users and 44% of all bitcoin transactions are associated with illegal activity as of April 2017. There were an estimated 24 million bitcoin users primarily using bitcoin for illegal activity. They held $8 billion worth of bitcoin, and made 36 million transactions valued at $72 billion.
Mostly due to its revolutionary properties cryptocurrencies have become a success their inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto, didn‘t dare to dream of it. While every other attempt to create a digital cash system didn‘t attract a critical mass of users, Bitcoin had something that provoked enthusiasm and fascination. Sometimes it feels more like religion than technology.
China banned trading in bitcoin, with first steps taken in September 2017, and a complete ban that started on 1 February 2018. Bitcoin prices then fell from $9,052 to $6,914 on 5 February 2018. The percentage of bitcoin trading in the Chinese renminbi fell from over 90% in September 2017 to less than 1% in June 2018. On August 1, 2017 a fork of the network created Bitcoin Cash.