The validity of each cryptocurrency's coins is provided by a blockchain. A blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.[23][26] Each block typically contains a hash pointer as a link to a previous block,[26] a timestamp and transaction data.[27] By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is "an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way".[28] For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority.

Bitcoin is pseudonymous rather than anonymous in that the cryptocurrency within a wallet is not tied to people, but rather to one or more specific keys (or "addresses").[41] Thereby, bitcoin owners are not identifiable, but all transactions are publicly available in the blockchain. Still, cryptocurrency exchanges are often required by law to collect the personal information of their users.[citation needed]

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The legal status of cryptocurrencies varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. While some countries have explicitly allowed their use and trade,[51] others have banned or restricted it. According to the Library of Congress, an "absolute ban" on trading or using cryptocurrencies applies in eight countries: Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. An "implicit ban" applies in another 15 countries, which include Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Lesotho, Lithuania, Macau, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.[52] In the United States and Canada, state and provincial securities regulators, coordinated through the North American Securities Administrators Association, are investigating "bitcoin scams" and ICOs in 40 jurisdictions.[53]
Litecoin was one of the first cryptocurrencies after Bitcoin and tagged as the silver to the digital gold bitcoin. Faster than bitcoin, with a larger amount of token and a new mining algorithm, Litecoin was a real innovation, perfectly tailored to be the smaller brother of bitcoin. “It facilitated the emerge of several other cryptocurrencies which used its codebase but made it, even more, lighter“. Examples are Dogecoin or Feathercoin.

In 1983, the American cryptographer David Chaum conceived an anonymous cryptographic electronic money called ecash.[7][8] Later, in 1995, he implemented it through Digicash,[9] an early form of cryptographic electronic payments which required user software in order to withdraw notes from a bank and designate specific encrypted keys before it can be sent to a recipient. This allowed the digital currency to be untraceable by the issuing bank, the government, or any third party.

The term altcoin has various similar definitions. Stephanie Yang of The Wall Street Journal defined altcoins as "alternative digital currencies,"[20] while Paul Vigna, also of The Wall Street Journal, described altcoins as alternative versions of bitcoin.[21] Aaron Hankins of the MarketWatch refers to any cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin as altcoins.[22]

On 3 January 2009, the bitcoin network was created when Nakamoto mined the first block of the chain, known as the genesis block.[25][26] Embedded in the coinbase of this block was the text "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks".[16] This note references a headline published by The Times and has been interpreted as both a timestamp and a comment on the instability caused by fractional-reserve banking.[27]:18