To be accepted by the rest of the network, a new block must contain a proof-of-work (PoW).[79] The system used is based on Adam Back's 1997 anti-spam scheme, Hashcash.[90][failed verification][4] The PoW requires miners to find a number called a nonce, such that when the block content is hashed along with the nonce, the result is numerically smaller than the network's difficulty target.[7]:ch. 8 This proof is easy for any node in the network to verify, but extremely time-consuming to generate, as for a secure cryptographic hash, miners must try many different nonce values (usually the sequence of tested values is the ascending natural numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, ...[7]:ch. 8) before meeting the difficulty target.
Bitcoin is a digital asset designed to work in peer-to-peer transactions as a currency.[4][141] Bitcoins have three qualities useful in a currency, according to The Economist in January 2015: they are "hard to earn, limited in supply and easy to verify."[142] Per some researchers, as of 2015, bitcoin functions more as a payment system than as a currency.[36]
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]
The first decentralized cryptocurrency, bitcoin, was created in 2009 by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto. It used SHA-256, a cryptographic hash function, as its proof-of-work scheme.[14][15] In April 2011, Namecoin was created as an attempt at forming a decentralized DNS, which would make internet censorship very difficult. Soon after, in October 2011, Litecoin was released. It was the first successful cryptocurrency to use scrypt as its hash function instead of SHA-256. Another notable cryptocurrency, Peercoin was the first to use a proof-of-work/proof-of-stake hybrid.[16]
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.[36]:220–222 Bitcoin miners join large mining pools to minimize the variance of their income.[36]:215, 219–222[120]:3[121] 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.[122] As of 2013 just six mining pools controlled 75% of overall bitcoin hashing power.[122] 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.[123] c. 2017 over 70% of the hashing power and 90% of transactions were operating from China.[124]
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]
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