The first cryptocurrency to capture the public imagination was Bitcoin, which was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. As of February 2019, there were over 17.53 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of around $63 billion (although the market price of bitcoin can fluctuate quite a bit). Bitcoin's success has spawned a number of competing cryptocurrencies, known as "altcoins" such as Litecoin, Namecoin and Peercoin, as well as Ethereum, EOS, and Cardano. Today, there are literally thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence, with an aggregate market value of over $120 billion (Bitcoin currently represents more than 50% of the total value).

If the private key is lost, the bitcoin network will not recognize any other evidence of ownership;[36] the coins are then unusable, and effectively lost. For example, in 2013 one user claimed to have lost 7,500 bitcoins, worth $7.5 million at the time, when he accidentally discarded a hard drive containing his private key.[82] About 20% of all bitcoins are believed to be lost. They would have a market value of about $20 billion at July 2018 prices.[83]


The first wallet program, simply named Bitcoin, and sometimes referred to as the Satoshi client, was released in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto as open-source software.[16] In version 0.5 the client moved from the wxWidgets user interface toolkit to Qt, and the whole bundle was referred to as Bitcoin-Qt.[112] After the release of version 0.9, the software bundle was renamed Bitcoin Core to distinguish itself from the underlying network.[113][114]
In March 2013 the blockchain temporarily split into two independent chains with different rules due to a bug in version 0.8 of the bitcoin software. The two blockchains operated simultaneously for six hours, each with its own version of the transaction history from the moment of the split. Normal operation was restored when the majority of the network downgraded to version 0.7 of the bitcoin software, selecting the backward compatible version of the blockchain. As a result, this blockchain became the longest chain and could be accepted by all participants, regardless of their bitcoin software version.[42] During the split, the Mt. Gox exchange briefly halted bitcoin deposits and the price dropped by 23% to $37[42][43] before recovering to previous level of approximately $48 in the following hours.[44] The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) established regulatory guidelines for "decentralized virtual currencies" such as bitcoin, classifying American bitcoin miners who sell their generated bitcoins as Money Service Businesses (MSBs), that are subject to registration or other legal obligations.[45][46][47] In April, exchanges BitInstant and Mt. Gox experienced processing delays due to insufficient capacity[48] resulting in the bitcoin price dropping from $266 to $76 before returning to $160 within six hours.[49] The bitcoin price rose to $259 on 10 April, but then crashed by 83% to $45 over the next three days.[40] On 15 May 2013, US authorities seized accounts associated with Mt. Gox after discovering it had not registered as a money transmitter with FinCEN in the US.[50][51] On 23 June 2013, the US Drug Enforcement Administration listed ₿11.02 as a seized asset in a United States Department of Justice seizure notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881.[52][better source needed] This marked the first time a government agency had seized bitcoin.[53] The FBI seized about ₿30,000[54] in October 2013 from the dark web website Silk Road during the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht.[55][56][57] These bitcoins were sold at blind auction by the United States Marshals Service to venture capital investor Tim Draper.[54] Bitcoin's price rose to $755 on 19 November and crashed by 50% to $378 the same day. On 30 November 2013 the price reached $1,163 before starting a long-term crash, declining by 87% to $152 in January 2015.[40] On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins.[58] After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped,[59] and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services.[60] Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency had been illegal in China since at least 2009.[61]

Two members of the Silk Road Task Force—a multi-agency federal task force that carried out the U.S. investigation of Silk Road—seized bitcoins for their own use in the course of the investigation.[68] DEA agent Carl Mark Force IV, who attempted to extort Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht ("Dread Pirate Roberts"), pleaded guilty to money laundering, obstruction of justice, and extortion under color of official right, and was sentenced to 6.5 years in federal prison.[68] U.S. Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges pleaded guilty to crimes relating to his diversion of $800,000 worth of bitcoins to his personal account during the investigation, and also separately pleaded guilty to money laundering in connection with another cryptocurrency theft; he was sentenced to nearly eight years in federal prison.[69]
Darknet markets present challenges in regard to legality. Bitcoins and other forms of cryptocurrency used in dark markets are not clearly or legally classified in almost all parts of the world. In the U.S., bitcoins are labelled as "virtual assets". This type of ambiguous classification puts pressure on law enforcement agencies around the world to adapt to the shifting drug trade of dark markets.[75]
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.[citation needed] 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.[72] On 9 July 2018 the exchange Bancor had $23.5 million in cryptocurrency stolen.[73]
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".[140] 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.[233][234]

As with other cryptocurrencies, the validity of each ether is provided by a blockchain, which is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.[30][31] By design, the blockchain is inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is an open, distributed ledger that records transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.[32] Unlike Bitcoin, Ethereum operates using accounts and balances in a manner called state transitions. This does not rely upon unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs). State denotes the current balances of all accounts and extra data. State is not stored on the blockchain, it is stored in a separate Merkle Patricia tree. A cryptocurrency wallet stores the public and private "keys" or "addresses" which can be used to receive or spend ether. These can be generated through BIP 39 style mnemonics for a BIP 32 "HD Wallet". In Ethereum, this is unnecessary as it does not operate in a UTXO scheme. With the private key, it is possible to write in the blockchain, effectively making an ether transaction.

In 1998, Wei Dai published a description of "b-money", characterized as an anonymous, distributed electronic cash system.[12] Shortly thereafter, Nick Szabo described bit gold.[13] Like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that would follow it, bit gold (not to be confused with the later gold-based exchange, BitGold) was described as an electronic currency system which required users to complete a proof of work function with solutions being cryptographically put together and published. A currency system based on a reusable proof of work was later created by Hal Finney who followed the work of Dai and Szabo.[citation needed]
Vitalik Buterin picked the name Ethereum after browsing Wikipedia articles about elements and science fiction, when he found the name, noting, "I immediately realized that I liked it better than all of the other alternatives that I had seen; I suppose it was the fact that sounded nice and it had the word 'ether', referring to the hypothetical invisible medium that permeates the universe and allows light to travel."[9]
Full clients verify transactions directly by downloading a full copy of the blockchain (over 150 GB As of January 2018).[100] They are the most secure and reliable way of using the network, as trust in external parties is not required. Full clients check the validity of mined blocks, preventing them from transacting on a chain that breaks or alters network rules.[7]:ch. 1 Because of its size and complexity, downloading and verifying the entire blockchain is not suitable for all computing devices.
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.
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.
Computing power is often bundled together or "pooled" to reduce variance in miner income. Individual mining rigs often have to wait for long periods to confirm a block of transactions and receive payment. In a pool, all participating miners get paid every time a participating server solves a block. This payment depends on the amount of work an individual miner contributed to help find that block.[97]
Essentially, any cryptocurrency network is based on the absolute consensus of all the participants regarding the legitimacy of balances and transactions. If nodes of the network disagree on a single balance, the system would basically break. However, there are a lot of rules pre-built and programmed into the network that prevents this from happening.

Most cryptocurrencies are designed to gradually decrease production of that currency, placing a cap on the total amount of that currency that will ever be in circulation.[25] Compared with ordinary currencies held by financial institutions or kept as cash on hand, cryptocurrencies can be more difficult for seizure by law enforcement.[1] This difficulty is derived from leveraging cryptographic technologies.
If you happen to own a business and if you’re looking for potential new customers, accepting cryptocurrencies as a form of payment may be a solution for you. The interest in cryptocurrencies has never been higher and it’s only going to increase. Along with the growing interest, also grows the number of crypto-ATMs located around the world. Coin ATM Radar currently lists almost 1,800 ATMs in 58 countries.
^ Mooney, Chris; Mufson, Steven (19 December 2017). "Why the bitcoin craze is using up so much energy". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 9 January 2018. Retrieved 11 January 2018. several experts told The Washington Post that bitcoin probably uses as much as 1 to 4 gigawatts, or billion watts, of electricity, roughly the output of one to three nuclear reactors.
In March 2017, various blockchain start-ups, research groups, and Fortune 500 companies announced the creation of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) with 30 founding members.[16] By May, the nonprofit organization had 116 enterprise members—including ConsenSys, CME Group, Cornell University's research group, Toyota Research Institute, Samsung SDS, Microsoft, Intel, J. P. Morgan, Cooley LLP, Merck KGaA, DTCC, Deloitte, Accenture, Banco Santander, BNY Mellon, ING, and National Bank of Canada.[17][18][19] By July 2017, there were over 150 members in the alliance, including recent additions MasterCard, Cisco Systems, Sberbank and Scotiabank.[20][21]

As of February 2018, the Chinese Government halted trading of virtual currency, banned initial coin offerings and shut down mining. Some Chinese miners have since relocated to Canada.[32] One company is operating data centers for mining operations at Canadian oil and gas field sites, due to low gas prices.[33] In June 2018, Hydro Quebec proposed to the provincial government to allocate 500 MW to crypto companies for mining.[34] According to a February 2018 report from Fortune,[35] Iceland has become a haven for cryptocurrency miners in part because of its cheap electricity. Prices are contained because nearly all of the country's energy comes from renewable sources, prompting more mining companies to consider opening operations in Iceland.[citation needed]

Within a cryptocurrency network, only miners can confirm transactions by solving a cryptographic puzzle. They take transactions, mark them as legitimate and spread them across the network. Afterwards, every node of the network adds it to its database. Once the transaction is confirmed it becomes unforgeable and irreversible and a miner receives a reward, plus the transaction fees.


Wallets and similar software technically handle all bitcoins as equivalent, establishing the basic level of fungibility. Researchers have pointed out that the history of each bitcoin is registered and publicly available in the blockchain ledger, and that some users may refuse to accept bitcoins coming from controversial transactions, which would harm bitcoin's fungibility.[128] For example, in 2012, Mt. Gox froze accounts of users who deposited bitcoins that were known to have just been stolen.[129]
An initial coin offering (ICO) is a controversial means of raising funds for a new cryptocurrency venture. An ICO may be used by startups with the intention of avoiding regulation. However, securities regulators in many jurisdictions, including in the U.S., and Canada have indicated that if a coin or token is an "investment contract" (e.g., under the Howey test, i.e., an investment of money with a reasonable expectation of profit based significantly on the entrepreneurial or managerial efforts of others), it is a security and is subject to securities regulation. In an ICO campaign, a percentage of the cryptocurrency (usually in the form of "tokens") is sold to early backers of the project in exchange for legal tender or other cryptocurrencies, often bitcoin or ether.[47][48][49]

The Bank for International Settlements summarized several criticisms of bitcoin in Chapter V of their 2018 annual report. The criticisms include the lack of stability in bitcoin's price, the high energy consumption, high and variable transactions costs, the poor security and fraud at cryptocurrency exchanges, vulnerability to debasement (from forking), and the influence of miners.[198][199][200]
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.
Bitcoin has been criticized for the amount of electricity consumed by mining. As of 2015, The Economist estimated that even if all miners used modern facilities, the combined electricity consumption would be 166.7 megawatts (1.46 terawatt-hours per year).[142] At the end of 2017, the global bitcoin mining activity was estimated to consume between one and four gigawatts of electricity.[211] According to Politico, even the high-end estimates of bitcoin's total consumption levels amount to only about 6% of the total power consumed by the global banking sector, and even if bitcoin's consumption levels increased 100 fold from today's levels, bitcoin's consumption would still only amount to about 2% of global power consumption.[212]
Mining is a record-keeping service done through the use of computer processing power.[f] 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.[79] Each block contains a SHA-256 cryptographic hash of the previous block,[79] thus linking it to the previous block and giving the blockchain its name.[7]:ch. 7[79]
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