What are cryptocurrencies?
Cryptocurrency is virtual money, which, unlike fiat funds, has no physical expression.
The digital currency is protected from counterfeiting and duplication, and its quantity and emission are strictly limited, for example for the largest cryptocurrency Bitcoin (BTC) the maximum number is 21 million coins (i.e. more than 21 million BTC will never be created).
The key feature of cryptocurrencies is decentralization – the absence of any internal or external administrator.
Therefore, banks, tax, judicial and government agencies cannot influence the transactions of crypto-asset users. This is possible because all data about cryptocurrency wallets and transactions is stored in the blockchain. The transfer of cryptocurrencies is irreversible – no one can cancel, block, challenge or force (without a private key) a transaction. However, the participants of the transaction can voluntarily temporarily mutually block their cryptocurrencies as collateral or establish that the completion/cancellation of the transaction requires the consent of all (or arbitrary additional) parties. Such opportunities are available in smart contracts and depend on a particular blockchain.
A bit of history
The fact is that cryptocurrencies are not the first form of digital money. Attempts to create digital currencies began in the early 1990s, but all these inventions could not compete with electronic banking money or third-party systems such as PayPal. David Shaum paved the way for the digital currency when he launched DigiCash in 1989. It was an electronic network used to send currency anonymously. Ten years after DigiCash’s bankruptcy, we saw the likes of E-gold and Liberty Reserve, which also went bankrupt after criminal charges.
Soon the idea began to seem to people far-fetched and unrealizable. Why did all this fail? The most plausible explanation is that there was no demand for digital currency, as e-commerce has not yet entered the scene, as well as widespread Internet access.
Moving to 2008, the mysterious figure known as Satoshi Nakamoto gave a new explanation for previous failures: all these systems were centralized and therefore based on trust. And according to the enigmatic Nakamoto, this was the biggest problem. A detailed explanation can be read in a document written by Satoshi in 2008:
“Bitcoin: p2p system of electronic money” (Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System).
In it, Nakamoto highlighted two fundamental problems: the operation of conventional financial systems and the properties of a fiat currency (e.g. the U.S. dollar). You may not have thought about it, but your assets in US dollars, pounds, euros or any other fiat currency make you dependent on the state.
Most of these currencies once represented real tangible assets (such as gold), but these days are long gone and cash has no value other than your faith in them. That is why any government can easily manipulate your means and thus interfere with your privacy. And governments are really doing it: they are devaluing the currency by printing billions of new banknotes to contain inflation or to play with interest rates.
The global financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath are an example of how governments can manipulate our money supply and economy. The sell-off by the banks led to the financial crisis, but instead of punishment the banks received loans of $4 trillion. U.S. government. The Fed’s “quantitative acceleration” program allowed it to do this by buying back securities from the market to reduce interest rates. Instead of allowing the U.S. economy to recover naturally and recover, the government pumped the money into the very institutions that caused the depression.
Given that the fiat currency itself creates problems, what about the centralized systems that we use to store and transfer money, that is, about banks, trust funds and online transfer services?
They are also, to put it mildly, imperfect. Here is the biggest of the problems with centralized systems: trust bonding (you believe that the bank or service you choose will act honestly, ethically, transparently and always keep your assets safe).
But can we trust an economy controlled by governments and banks?
This was questionable until 2008, and the global financial crisis was the last straw.
The term “cryptocurrency” came into use after the publication of an article about bitcoin – the digital currency and the payment system. Bitcoin is the brainchild of Satoshi Nakamoto, but what kind of person or group of people is hiding behind this pseudonym, is still not known.
Nakamoto introduced the concept of a decentralized payment system on October 31, 2008. Its basic principles are anonymity for all participants, protection from fraud and independence from controlling organizations.
The bitcoin network consists of related transaction blocks. Each subsequent block contains information about the previous one, so you can build them into a single chain and get information about all the transactions that have been made earlier (but not about the owners of bitcoins).
The process of creating new blocks is called mining. In order for the next block to appear on the network, it is necessary to generate a cryptographic signature for it. As a reward, you get new bitcoins. By the way, their emission is not an endless process. It is known in advance that no more than 21 million bitcoins can be created.
At first, it was relatively easy to create blocks, and single miners coped with it. Over time, the complexity grew, mining required solid computing power, so miners began to merge into pools and extract new bitcoins jointly.
Like any limited resource, coins have a certain value, growing as demand increases. The first coins are easy to find, but as you advance, the harder it is to find new blocks. People have to unite in groups and spend a fair amount of time and effort to find the next block.
According to Coinmarketcap.com, as of 19.12.2020, there are 8055 different cryptocurrencies.
The total market capitalization of virtual assets is more than $655 billions, about 85% of this amount is shared by the 20 largest blockchain projects, Bitcoin only accounts for 65% due to recent price increase.
The most affordable and simple way to buy a digital currency for cash is to buy it on a cryptocurrency exchange.
Miners provide hashrate of their ASICs, graphics cards and processors to obtain cryptocurrency by using the computing power of mining equipment. For several years, this version of BTC mining is unprofitable for the average user, giving way to the more flexible and profitable cloud mining.
The most profitable way to get bitcoins in the medium and long term. It is a lease of the capacity of the cloud mining service in the form of a contract for a year. All the cryptocurrency extracted by this power gets to your account. On average, the income is from 130% to 200% per year, it all depends on the rate and the growth of the complexity of the network.
Be careful, among the services of cloud mining there are a lot of sites full of scams and pyramids.
Features of cryptocurrencies
Cryptocurrencies are not based on trust. Systems that manage cryptocurrencies do not require trust, they do not involve third parties. They replace the trust with a test. In a p2p network, assets are fully controlled by each participant and transferred directly between them without the approval and control of a governing body (such as a bank).
Cryptocurrencies are immutable
By its very nature, blockchain technology makes cryptocurrency transactions unchanged. They cannot be cancelled, delayed, duplicated, hidden or altered. In such a system it is impossible to cheat in the usual way, and it is protected from human errors, which makes cryptocurrency infinitely more transparent than simple electronic money in the bank.
Cryptocurrencies are decentralized
In cryptocurrencies, new coins are systematically and transparently created by the system.
Take bitcoin: its infrastructure ensures that only 21 million units will ever exist. Now compare this with the constant “printing” and depreciation of fiat currencies, such as dollars and euros, in the easy hands of governments and central banks.
All cryptocurrencies exist on blockchain technology (Blockchain), for better perceiving the principle of blockchain work, consider the following:
Thanks to this feature, everyone can mine virtual coins. Despite the complexity of the process, many people still earn their living in this way.
Unlike classical electronic money, transactions with which are easily tracked, to get information about the owner of the cryptocurrency wallet will not work. Only the wallet number and limited account details are available
Cryptocurrency is an independent currency. Its emission is not regulated or controlled by the movement of funds in the account. It is this feature that attracts many members of the Web.
As a rule, the cryptocurrency is issued in a limited amount, which excludes the risks of inflation due to excessive activity of the issuer. Reliability. Hacking, forging or other similar manipulations with virtual currency will not work – it is securely protected.
Each user is personally responsible for their savings. There are no regulatory mechanisms, so in case of theft proving something for returning the money will not work.
Cryptocurrencies are unpredictable, because it depends on the current demand, which, in turn, can change against the background of changes in legislation, current opinions and other factors. For this reason, there are fluctuations in the price of virtual money.
Risk of prohibition or restriction
State structures are wary of cryptocurrency. Many countries have imposed restrictions on its use, and violators may face fines or even jail terms. At the same time, a number of European states are still on the way to finding a compromise on the use of such money.
The danger of loss
The “key” to accessing electronic money is a special password. If you lose it, cryptocurrencies in your wallet become unavailable.
As the complexity of block formation increases, the mining of the virtual currency also becomes more relevant. The cost of buying equipment and the cost of paying for electricity simply does not pay off. That’s why in recent years special companies with the necessary capacity – cloud mining services are in demand.
Types of cryptocurrencies
A fairly large part of the coins is used to pay for services in a certain network, is not sold on exchanges, and does not represent value to investors. All cryptocurrencies can be divided into the following types:
Coin payment systems that are designed to pay for goods and services and can be used as an investment. They are highly decentralized, anonymous and easy to use. The most popular among such cryptocurrencies is Bitcoin (BTC). In fact, bitcoin is the only fully decentralized digital currency.
These are financial instruments that users of networks designed to develop and execute smart contracts cannot do without. A smart contract is a program that automatically controls the transfer of assets between two or more contract participants under predetermined conditions.
The most famous platform crypto-platform is Ethereum. In addition to the main purpose, the ether is used as electronic money on a par with bitcoin. People invest in the infrastructure of the ethereum network, being confident that they are not investing in a marketing trap, but are multiplying their capital by contributing to the development of innovative projects.
Exchanges Cryptocurrency (internal trading tokens)
Large crypto-exchanges issue their own digital currency. Thus, the administration accelerates the turnover of funds and increases the liquidity of little-known assets on its trading floor. Users at any time can sell a coin for a stock token, with a minimum service fee, which significantly reduces the risks of investing in young projects.
Digital crypto-exchange coins are fully centralized networks, this is their main difference from traditional cryptocurrencies. They have good liquidity, but only as long as the platform that released them successfully develops.
The most popular stock tokens are Binance Coin (BNB) and EXMO Coin (EXM).
These are the least volatile cryptocurrencies because their value is always tied to a physical asset.
A company that produces stablecoins must have a fiat sum on the balance sheet, such as in U.S. dollars, to ensure the value of the token. The most famous coin of this type is Tether (USDT), but there are other stablecoins secured by the dollar and the euro currency.
Utility Tokens (service tokens, also known as App Coins)
They are produced in a limited amount for ICO. After the completion of the fundraising campaign, blockchain project teams sometimes try to promote as an investment option.
But this practice is now strictly controlled by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, so for a successful investment you need to be an expert in the field of economics.
Also known as hardware tokens, are a direct analogue of securities. They are distributed among investors to enhance the financial security of investments. Security Token is something like a digital marker that every contributor receives. On the basis of cryptographic tokens are distributed dividend payments, they can themselves be invested in other projects.
The rights of the Security Tokens owner are recorded in a smart contract, and the tokens themselves are sold on trading platforms. STO turnover is controlled by financial regulators such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the Swiss Financial Markets Supervision Service (FINMA).
This (or Crypto Goods) is the common name of a sold or exchangeable asset in the real or virtual world, which can be obtained through the blockchain network using exclusive digital tokens. Crypto commodities pay for hosting on a remote server, media content, and other goods and services within a specific platform. For example, Aeron blockchain coins can pay for access to a database related to air safety. The self-regulation and financial performance of Crypto Commodities is embedded in the software code in the form of a smart contract. Unlike Platforms Coins, Crypto Commodities tokens are never used as ordinary money outside of the project.
Why is crypto the alternative to FIAT?
A decentralized system that is not based on trust and is not influenced from outside. You guessed it correctly: it’s a cryptocurrency.
How does cryptocurrency differ from the euro and the dollar?
These are Bitcoin features that distinguish it from other types of electronic and paper money:
Decentralization and accessibility.
The Bitcoin network is a combination of all client programs (wallets) and a distributed blockchain database, which is stored on each computer where the full client is installed. Blockchain is fully open to view the registry of all transactions in the system. Connecting to this registry is possible with your own wallet or web interface of special monitoring services from anywhere in the world, without passwords and any other authorization.
Full transparency of calculations
The history of any payment can be (theoretically) traced to the very moment of coin generation and it will never be removed from the database. Knowing only the address of Bitcoin, you can at any time find out all transactions accepted by this address or sent from it.
Free choice of degree of participation
You can install an official Bitcoin Core client that stores the entire transaction history. If you don’t need autonomous work and blockchain analysis, you can install one of the lightweight or mobile wallets that require significantly less resources.
If you are only going to pay for small purchases on the way or just try the technology – mobile or online wallet will suffice. For maximum security, there are hardware wallets with additional degrees of protection.
Lack of control over the network
Since blockchain is a distributed system based on peer-to-peer nodes, the Bitcoin network does not have a control center that can freeze any account, change the number of currency units in the system, block or cancel the payment. There are small commissions, the size of which in practice is almost intangible and does not depend on the amount of the transfer. Transactions in the system are irretrievable in the same way as cash transactions.
The possibility of anonymous calculations
Bitcoin provides a convenient and (if desired) anonymous means of calculations of the address (the account number in the system), which is not associated with its owner, and no documents are required to open it.
That’s a line of about 34 characters in numbers and letters of the Latin alphabet that looks like this:
It can be translated into a form of QR code or other two-dimensional code for ease of access, or passed as it is.
The reward for network support
New bitcoins come into circulation as a reward for those who carry out computing operations that ensure the transfer of transactions. The computation was called mining, those who do these computations are called “miners.” Their task is to record in one block all the transactions that have occurred on the network since the release of the previous block (on average 10 minutes), and to “seal” its complex cryptographic signature.
The next block is calculated on the basis of the signature of the previous one, which guarantees the irreversibility of transactions, as well as preventing “fake” currency from getting into the system. So the blocks are connected to each other, forming a chain – the blockchain.
With each new block, the processing power needed by miners to calculate the entire chain from scratch grows, and the longer the chain, the harder it is to “hack” the network.
Today, Bitcoin is a decentralized computing network with a performance of more than 8 times (in terms of the speed of calculating hashes SHA-256) exceeds the total computing power of all supercomputers in the world. In order to seize even limited control over it, huge resources and expenses of hundreds of millions of dollars are needed.
How many cryptocurrencies are out there?
There are several thousand different cryptocurrencies, but most of them are soap bubbles. Bellow are some popular ones
Is the most popular cryptocurrency and, figuratively speaking, the ancestor of the genre. The emergence of Bitcoin marked the beginning of the development of all other such currencies. The developer is a hidden group of programmers calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto. It is worth noting that the creators of BTC left a free code of their development, which allowed other specialists to create on this basis already new types of cryptocurrencies. THE BTC issue is limited to 21 million (at the moment this limit has not yet been reached).
Is a platform for creating decentralized online services based on blockchain (Dapps or Decentralized applications) operating on the basis of smart contracts. It is implemented as a single decentralized virtual machine. It was proposed by the founder of Bitcoin Magazine, Vitalik Buterin, at the end of 2013, and the network was launched on July 30, 2015. Being open source, Ethereum makes blockchain technology much easier, which explains the interest of not only new startups, but also major software developers such as Microsoft, IBM and Acronis. Financial companies, including Sberbank, are also showing a noticeable interest in the platform.
Unlike other cryptocurrencies, the authors do not limit the role of ether payments, and offer it, for example, as a means to exchange resources or register transactions with assets with the help of smart contracts, in particular, the authors called the ether “crypto-fuel” for the execution of smart contracts peer-to-peer network. The ether is sold on exchange services, and the capitalization of the total amount of ether exceeded thirty billion dollars.
Litecoin is an alternative cryptographic currency that is a Bitcoin fork. Litecoin is also a payment peer-to-peer system that can be used to make transactions and transfers from one user to another. This currency was founded by programmer Charlie Lee, who used to work for Google. Litecoin was launched in 2011. The main idea of this creation is to become a kind of analogue of silver in the digital finance market, taking into account that already known to you Bitcoin is often associated with gold. THE LTC is limited to 84 million.
Ripple is a global system of mutual settlements. It has its own unique features that distinguish Ripple from other cryptocurrencies. This is not a bitcoin hard fork – with BTC the XRP system has little in common. It does not use the traditional blockchain, which we are used to seeing in most cryptocurrencies.
The principle of the system is based on agreements of the so-called consensus. For clarity, let’s take this scheme as an example:
You need to give your partner in another country 100 dollars. It is impossible to meet in person, send a translation overhead, and therefore you negotiate with your familiar supplier, who is in the area, and he gives his money to your partner. This acquaintance is then transferred to valuables equivalent to a hundred dollars, and this can happen as in any currency convenient to him, so even be returned material things. In the end, everyone gets what they want, although few of the chain knows each other – all interaction is based on trust.
In Ripple, server nodes play the role of such people. The registry is updated every few seconds and the most up-to-date at this time is called LCL – Last Close Ledger. Copies of the registry are stored on the network’s servers, which are also called nodes. With the outside world, or rather with shops, exchange offices, the system interacts through the so-called “gateways.”
Anyone who wants to conduct a transaction, should send the gateway money with the help of a bank card, electronic payment system. Then the money can be changed to any currency in the world. At the same time, the system will do it at the most favorable rate.
There are plenty more others, you can check a huge list here:
Having formulated the essence of the “right” currency and created a blockchain, Nakamoto became the founding father of the first cryptocurrency – bitcoin. Mining of the first block took place in January 2009, and it encrypted the following text, referring to the financial crisis: As in any innovative technology, followers are not far behind the discoverer. Less than ten years after the invention of bitcoin, you can see in circulation more than 1500 cryptocurrencies with a total capitalization close to $500 billion (at the time of writing).
Competition is high, coins compete, wanting to snatch a bigger piece. You should remember at least five representatives of this space: Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin. These five giants occupy most of the market. If you want to know more, study 50 cryptocurrencies located at the top of the rankings.
The basic idea of bitcoin is quite simple, as in the first place it is a means of storing and exchanging assets. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as cryptocurrencies have other functions. Not so long ago, innovators came up with completely new applications for cryptocurrencies, many of which Satoshi may not have imagined in his wildest dreams.
Take the second largest cryptocurrency – ethereum. Vitalik Buterin invented this platform in 2013. Unlike bitcoin, ethereum is built to allow dapp (decentralized applications) and smart contracts to be created on its basis.
Bitcoin itself, in fact, was a dump designed to accomplish a certain purpose (a decentralized p2p system for the exchange of digital currency). Dumps work in blockchains, just like PC programs are created under Windows or other operating systems. Instead of creating a new blockchain every time someone wants to create their own dump, you can use the existing ethereum infrastructure.
Compare building a house on your own in a clear field with the employment of a team of professionals who have thought it through for you. Ethereum allowed almost everyone to create their own cryptocurrencies and dapps without any problems. It is not surprising that hundreds of cryptocurrencies are built on the ethereum, and individuals, institutions and startups come up with all sorts of creative applications of this platform. This is the path of least resistance.
However, many have done the hard work necessary to create their own blockchains.For example, NEM, NEO or Litecoin.
Why create your blockchain, you might ask?
Although it is relatively easy to create a cryptocurrency or a dapp on an existing platform, you will be limited by the capabilities of this platform and the rules it has set. That’s why serious projects often prefer their own blockchains. We realized that bitcoin and ethereum are revolutionary, but what are the advantages of cryptocurrencies in practice?
What makes cryptocurrencies useful is not so much the goods that you can buy for them, but getting rid of the problems they solve. This is the basic value they provide to the end consumer. It is no coincidence that the most valuable cryptocurrencies are innovative.
Take bitcoin, which has revolutionized the way we conduct transactions and stores valuables, allowing us to send money to anyone, anytime, anywhere, without any permission. Like any great idea, bitcoin has several followers who want to improvewhat he has achieved. Players such as Litecoin, Dash, IOTA and Ripple quickly took to the stage, offering faster, lower-cost transactions, better scalability and energy efficiency. Although to some extent these altcoins are struggling to become the most popular payment system of all, the nuances keep them in different markets.
For example, Monero is a tracking-protected cryptocurrency with anonymous transactions that allows users to keep their transactions confidential and maintain their balance without fear of being found out by third parties. The first and most obvious use of cryptocurrencies is payments, and the list of companies accepting bitcoin to pay for goods and services is growing, and ATMs with withdrawal function are located all over the world.
The race has begun to create a standard form of payment using cryptocurrency debit cards such as Bitpay, which will allow its owners to pay for purchases through regular terminals in stores. Although all this is great, blockchain technology is not limited to the financial sphere. It can be used to solve the many challenges that exist in today’s digital world. So now we can see hundreds of new projects with really incredible ideas. Following the ethereum, dozens of platforms for smart contracts were created, offering innovative solutions to problems related to agriculture, medicine, IT, logistics and almost any other sector. For example, Sia allows you to rent out unused space on a hard drive. In exchange for connecting this empty space to the blockchain you will get a certain amount of Siacoin, the project’s own cryptocurrency. Here it is worth noting the difference between coins and tokens. Coins exist exclusively as a form of digital money on their own blockchains. Bitcoin and litecoin are prime examples of coins. Tokens occupy a different niche and serve alternative purposes – for example, represent a digital asset, a share, a fee for the use of the system.
This means that they exist in the ethereum blockchain, and they all serve the appropriate utilities provided by the project. It is important to note that the usefulness of cryptocurrency is its main characteristic: if the token has practical application and solves the existing problem, it is likely to grow in price.
At the same time, many useless coins received in the end more than they should have. For example, Dogecoin was originally a comic cryptocurrency with no value or real market application. With a market capitalization of about $600 million (at the time of writing) this is probably the most profitable joke in the world. Despite some low-quality projects (or comic projects), it is fair to say that cryptocurrencies do not exist in a vacuum, but depend on the value of a decentralized application, platform or blockchain on which they are based.
Problems that delay mass adoption
So why is it that ten years have passed, and we still don’t buy hamburgers for bitcoins? Despite all its revolutionary properties, the cryptocurrency industry faces a number of problems that make mass recognition a slow and even somewhat painful process.
Let’s look at the biggest obstacles that cryptocurrencies have to overcome in order to get mass approval.
Stability is important in any payment method.
Volatility of most cryptocurrencies at times scares: they can fall significantly or grow in price in a matter of minutes. This is a good chance for investors, but the average seller or consumer will not resort to cryptocurrencies precisely because of such risks.
Speed and transaction costs are another drawback. Few coins can compete with payment systems like Visa. For example, a bitcoin transaction now takes about an hour on average, and the commission exceeds $15. This renders bitcoin useless for everyday operations. It is hopelessly slow and too expensive for small purchases. Not to mention the scalability problem, which prevents networks from processing a large number of transactions in a certain amount of time.
Then comes the question of safety.
Millions of dollars worth of crimes have already occurred in the cryptospace, such as the hacking of the Mt. Gox exchange. Plus, users do not always use cryptocurrency correctly. While cryptocurrencies themselves are incredibly reliable, the “safety technique” is still evolving.
Think about email: It took users decades to learn how to recognize spam, infected and phishing emails. The way in which new cryptocurrency projects raise funds has caused increased scrutiny and led to discussions about regulation.
China and South Korea have banned the participation in the ICO – the initial offering of coins – of their citizens, and a number of other countries may well follow suit. Why is that? Unfortunately, several scammers managed to rob enough people by offering “new coins”.
Legitimacy is the key to recognizing cryptocurrencies, and cowboy-style antics create a bad reputation for them and scepticism about the long-term viability of the technology. Even after the ICO issue has been resolved, the legality of the use of cryptocurrencies will continue to be questionable. Official authorities will not approve the use of cryptocurrencies by citizens to evade taxes or finance criminal activities.
The list of these problems is impressive, but each of them has more than one solution on the horizon. The smartest people in the world, full of enthusiasm, joined the cause. Technological problems seem to be the easiest to overcome.
Recent additions, such as IOTA, can provide unlimited scalability and almost instant transactions at no cost. So-called stable coins solve the problem of volatility, using various inventive methods to ensure that the value of the cryptocurrency does not fluctuate. Security measures are being strengthened, and cryptocurrency exchanges are improving their software to maximize the protection of users’ funds.
Despite all this rapid progress, the fate of cryptocurrencies depends too much on the authorities. Fortunately, it is clear to many governments that cryptocurrencies have great value, which is still difficult to understand to the end. As trillions of dollars flow into the crypto economy, many countries are likely to try to break into the leaders of the cryptocurrency space. Where there is money, there will be taxes.
As the economy develops, investors, corporations and users will obey the new rules that governments will dictate. Inevitably, we will walk away from the mad anarchy of unregulated ICOs. A number of countries are already laying the groundwork for this to happen. While China and South Korea have opted for bans, Switzerland has issued guidelines that build the legal framework for an ICO, aiming to become the most cryptocurrency-friendly nation.
It’s getting more interesting. As soon as bureaucrats give cryptocurrencies the green light, companies of all shapes and sizes will not fail to take advantage of it. Naturally, the infrastructure will not lag behind: banks, trading enterprises and service providers will be pulled up, and soon your grandmother will start buying Christmas crackers for bitcoins.
The lights are dimmed and you better take a seat in the front row. It may take months or even years for mass recognition, but cryptocurrency is a star actor in a show that definitely deserves attention.
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