Physical wallets can also take the form of metal token coins[107] with a private key accessible under a security hologram in a recess struck on the reverse side.[108]:38 The security hologram self-destructs when removed from the token, showing that the private key has been accessed.[109] Originally, these tokens were struck in brass and other base metals, but later used precious metals as bitcoin grew in value and popularity.[108]:80 Coins with stored face value as high as ₿1000 have been struck in gold.[108]:102–104 The British Museum's coin collection includes four specimens from the earliest series[108]:83 of funded bitcoin tokens; one is currently on display in the museum's money gallery.[110] In 2013, a Utahn manufacturer of these tokens was ordered by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to register as a money services business before producing any more funded bitcoin tokens.[107][108]:80
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]
Cryptocurrencies' blockchains are secure, but other aspects of a cryptocurrency ecosystem are not immune to the threat of hacking. In Bitcoin's 10-year history, several online exchanges have been the subject of hacking and theft, sometimes with millions of dollars worth of 'coins' stolen. Still, many observers look at cryptocurrencies as hope that a currency can exist that preserves value, facilitates exchange, is more transportable than hard metals, and is outside the influence of central banks and governments.
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.[176] 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.[177]
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]
Bloomberg reported that the largest 17 crypto merchant-processing services handled $69 million in June 2018, down from $411 million in September 2017. Bitcoin is "not actually usable" for retail transactions because of high costs and the inability to process chargebacks, according to Nicholas Weaver, a researcher quoted by Bloomberg. High price volatility and transaction fees make paying for small retail purchases with bitcoin impractical, according to economist Kim Grauer. However, bitcoin continues to be used for large-item purchases on sites such as Overstock.com, and for cross-border payments to freelancers and other vendors.[149]
Ethereum's blockchain uses Merkle trees, for security reasons, to improve scalability, and to optimize transaction hashing.[60] As with any Merkle tree implementation, it allows for storage savings, set membership proofs (called "Merkle proofs"), and light client synchronization. The Ethereum network has at times faced congestion problems, for example, congestion occurred during late 2017 in relation to Cryptokitties.[61]

Blockchain analysts estimate that Nakamoto had mined about one million bitcoins[32] before disappearing in 2010, when he handed the network alert key and control of the code repository over to Gavin Andresen. Andresen later became lead developer at the Bitcoin Foundation.[33][34] Andresen then sought to decentralize control. This left opportunity for controversy to develop over the future development path of bitcoin, in contrast to the perceived authority of Nakamoto's contributions.[35][34]
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