ABOUT BITCOIN

INTRODUCTION TO BITCOIN

  1. What Is Bitcoin?
  2. How Can I Buy Bitcoin?
  3. Why Use Bitcoin?
  4. How To Store Your Bitcoin
  5. How To Sell Bitcoin

The first mention of the digital currency called bitcoin was in August 2008 when two programmers using the names Satoshi Nakamoto and Martti Malmi registered a new domain, bitcoin.org. In October of the same year, Nakamoto released a document, called a white paper, entitled “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” In the preceding months, Nakamoto and a group of volunteer researchers had proposed different versions of the concept in forums and email threads. It was in 2008 that it all came together.

This paper laid out principles of Bitcoin, an electronic payment system that would eliminate the need for any central authority while ensuring secure, verifiable transactions. In short, the document described a new form of currency, one that allowed for trustless payments on the web – that is, they require a minimal amount or even no trust between parties.

In other words, the system allowed two users who didn’t know or trust each other to exchange money in the same way they could pass cash back and forth.

The system also allowed users to confirm messages, transactions and data using a tool called public key encryption, eliminating any need to disclose their identities to transaction partners or third parties. Pseudonymity, in this case, was a byproduct but not a primary feature.

In January 2009, the first bitcoin currency transaction occurred between two computers owned by Nakamoto and the late Hal Finney, a developer and an early cryptocurrency enthusiast.

To this day, no one knows who Satoshi Nakamoto really is. Even a man named Dorian Nakamoto was erroneously named as Bitcoin’s creator by a Newsweek reporter in 2014.

Bitcoin

Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by computers all around the world using free software and held electronically in programs called wallets. The smallest unit of a bitcoin is called a satoshi. It is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin (0.00000001). This enables micro transactions that traditional electronic money cannot perform.

Bitcoin, often abbreviated by the ticker symbol BTC, was the first example of what we now call a cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are a growing asset class that shares some characteristics with traditional currencies except they are purely digital, and creation and ownership verification is based on cryptography.

Generally the term “bitcoin” has two possible interpretations. There’s bitcoin the token, which refers to the keys to a unit of the digital currency that users own and trade. A bitcoin token is held in a bitcoin wallet that is identified by a string of numbers and letters such as “1A1zP1eP5QGefi2DMPTfTL5SLmv7DivfNa.” When someone wants to send you bitcoin, that person will send it to your particular, public wallet address, and you will access it via your private keys.

Then there’s Bitcoin the protocol, a distributed ledger that maintains the balances of all token trading. These ledgers are massive files stored on thousands of computers around the world. The network records each transaction onto these ledgers and then propagates them to all of the other ledgers on the network. Once all of the networks agree that they have recorded all of the correct information – including additional data added to a transaction that allows the network to store data immutably – the network permanently confirms the transaction.

Bitcoin can be used to pay for things electronically, if both parties are willing. In that sense it’s like conventional dollars, euros or yen, which can also be traded digitally using ledgers owned by centralized banks. Unlike payment services such as PayPal or credit cards, however, once you send a bitcoin, the transaction is irreversible – it cannot be called back.

That said, bitcoin does not depend on a centralized system of banking. Because each node on the network is owned by a private entity, the entire network is responsible for maintaining the accuracy of the ledger. When you send a bitcoin – or a fraction of a bitcoin – to another person, the entire network takes part. This process is called decentralization, one of the Bitcoin network’s most important characteristics. No single institution controls the bitcoin network. The protocol is maintained by a group of volunteer coders, and run by an open network of dedicated computers around the world.

Since there is no central validator in this network, users do not need to identify themselves when sending bitcoin to others. When a sender initiates a transaction, the protocol checks all previous transactions to confirm the sender has the necessary bitcoin as well as the authority to send them. Put another way, bitcoin users theoretically operate in semi-anonymity and the network is self-policing, ensuring that bad actors cannot be rewarded.

Bitcoin is also pseudo-anonymous. In practice, each user is identified by the address of his or her wallet, which can be used to track transactions. Law enforcement has also developed methods to identify users if necessary. Most exchanges are required by law to perform identity checks on their customers before they are allowed to buy or sell bitcoin. This means an exchange-assigned wallet address is most likely connected to a particular user. However, cryptocurrency wallets are not limited to exchanges or other online services, and a wallet generated by an anonymous user on a single computer is fairly difficult to trace. Further, every transaction on the network is fully transparent, a fact that concerns some privacy advocates. Ultimately, tracing a bitcoin transaction to a specific person is difficult but not impossible, and any statements describing the “anonymity” of bitcoin are inaccurate.

Since the network is transparent, the progress of a particular transaction is visible to all. Once that transaction is confirmed, it cannot be reversed. This means any transaction on the bitcoin network cannot be tampered with, making it immune to hackers. Most bitcoin hacks happen at the wallet level, with hackers stealing the keys to hoards of bitcoins rather than affecting the Bitcoin protocol itself.

Another attribute of bitcoin that takes away the need for central banks is that its supply is tightly controlled by the underlying algorithm. With fiat currencies (dollars, euros, yen, etc.), central banks can issue as many currency units as they want and can attempt to manipulate a currency’s value relative to others. Holders of the currency, especially citizens with little alternative, bear the cost.

With bitcoin, a small number of new coins trickle out every hour, and will continue to do so at a diminishing rate until a maximum of 21 million has been reached. This makes bitcoin more attractive as an asset: in theory, if demand grows and the supply remains the same, the value will increase.

Generally, the value of bitcoin has risen greatly since its inception, peaking in December 2017 at a price of $19,783.06 (in U.S. dollars). On Nov. 30, 2020, the price briefly rose above that mark to $19,850.11. The actual price of a decentralized asset like bitcoin isn’t strictly defined. Different services and exchanges may quote different prices for bitcoin at any given time, accounted for by discrepancies in asset liquidity, slippage and other factors. Bitcoin Treasury Bills uses its own Bitcoin Price Index (BPI), which represents an average of bitcoin prices across leading global exchanges.

Roughly every four years, the amount of bitcoin that miners can earn in the network will be halved, potentially driving up the asset’s price. Such an event is called bitcoin halving (the most recent one happened in May 2020).

 

 

HOW CAN I BUY BITCOIN?

So you’ve learned the basics of Bitcoin, now you’re excited about its potential and want to buy some. But how?

Bitcoin can be bought on exchanges or directly from other people via marketplaces.

You can purchase bitcoin in a variety of ways, using anything from hard cash to credit and debit cards to wire transfers, or even other cryptocurrencies, depending on who you are buying them from and where you live.

The first step is to set up a wallet to store your bitcoins – you will need one, whether you’re buying bitcoin online or with cash. This could be an online wallet (either part of an exchange platform, or via an independent provider), a desktop wallet, a mobile wallet or an offline one (such as a hardware device or a paper wallet).

The most important part of any wallet is keeping your keys and/or passwords safe. If you lose them, you lose access to the bitcoin stored there. In addition, never invest more than you can afford to lose – cryptocurrencies are volatile and their prices could go down as well as up.

If you want to buy bitcoin online, you can open an account at a cryptocurrency exchange that will buy and sell bitcoin on your behalf. There are hundreds currently operating, with varying degrees of liquidity and security, and new ones continue to emerge while others end up closing down due to hacking. As with wallets, it is advisable to do some research before choosing – you may be lucky enough to have several reputable exchanges to choose from, or there might just be one or two based on your geographical area.

High-volume exchanges include CoinbaseBitfinexBitstamp and Poloniex. For small amounts, most reputable exchanges should work well. 

With the clampdown on know-your-client (KYC) and anti-money-laundering (AML) regulation, many exchanges now require verified identification for account setup. This usually includes a photo of your official ID, and sometimes also a proof of address.

Most exchanges accept payments via bank transfers or credit cards, and some are willing to work with Paypal transfers. They typically charge fees for each transaction, which include the cost for using the bitcoin network.

A bitcoin transaction takes anywhere from a few minutes to a couple days to process, depending on the traffic in the network as well as the fee attached to that transaction.

Once the exchange has received payment, it will purchase the corresponding amount of bitcoin on your behalf, and deposit them in an automatically generated wallet on the exchange. You should then move the funds to your off exchange wallet.

If you prefer to buy bitcoin with cash, platforms such as LocalBitcoins will help find individuals near you who are willing to exchange bitcoin for cash. Also, LibertyX lists retail outlets across the United States at which you can exchange cash for bitcoin. And WallofCoinsPaxful and BitQuick will direct you to a bank branch near you that will allow you to make a cash deposit and receive bitcoin a few hours later.

Bitcoin ATMs are machines that will send bitcoin to your wallet in exchange for cash. They operate in a similar way to bank ATMs – you feed in the bills, hold your wallet’s QR code up to a screen, and the corresponding amount of bitcoin is beamed to your account. Coinatmradar can help you to find a bitcoin ATM near you.

(Note: specific businesses mentioned here are not the only options available, and should not be taken as a recommendation.)

WHY USE BITCOIN?

Satoshi Nakamoto originally created Bitcoin as an alternative, decentralized payment method. Unlike international bank transfers, it was low-cost and almost instantaneous.

 

An added advantage for merchants (less so for users) was that it was irreversible, removing the threat of expensive charge-backs. In return, consumers benefit from a wider selection of merchants both domestic and international without worrying about exchange fees. Moreover, the details of their transactions are encrypted which protects their personal data. 

The improvement in domestic payment methods and the rapid development of alternative (non-cryptocurrency) forms of international transfers, however, has reduced bitcoin’s advantage in this area, especially given its increasing fees and frequent network bottlenecks.

Furthermore, the increasing oversight and regulation to prevent money laundering and illegal transactions have restricted the cryptocurrency’s use for privacy reasons.

In some parts of the world, bitcoin is still a more efficient and cheaper way to transfer money across borders, and several remittance startups make use of this feature. Last year, Coinbase added cross-boarder transfers and custody services for high-volume clients in Asia and Europe. A recent partnership between crypto exchange Bitrex and Uruguay-based banking service provider Bantotal now facilitates direct bitcoin payments across 60 banks in Latin America. 

Bitcoin’s cost and speed advantages, though, are being eroded as traditional channels improve and the network’s fees continue to increase and availability remains a problem in many countries.

Also, a number of large and small retailers accept the cryptocurrency as a form of payment, although reports suggest that demand for this function is not high.

And many individuals feel more comfortable holding a part of their wealth in securely stored bitcoin wallets, where a central authority cannot block access or take a cut. Since the coronavirus lockdown began in March, we’ve witnessed a surge in demand for bitcoin wallets as users search for alternative self-custody solutions. The pandemic has also seemed to accelerate the widespread adoption of blockchain technology, as more and more businesses, payments companies and e-commerce marketplaces turn to digital currencies, especially stable coins. 

Recently bitcoin seems to have assumed the role of investment asset, as traders, institutional investors and small savers have woken up to the potential gains from price appreciation.

According to some sources, bitcoin is increasingly being used for money laudering. But blockchain analytics startups and crypto tracing firms are rolling out new tools to help exchanges comply with anti-money laundering standards. And anyway, bitcoin is not, as is commonly believed, a good vehicle for money laundering, extorsion or terrorism financing, since it is both traceable and transparent – as a spate of recent arrests can attest.

How To Store Your Bitcoins

Before holding any bitcoin, you need somewhere to store it. Just like in the physical world, you store your bitcoin in a wallet.

Similar to a bank account number, your wallet comes with a wallet address that shows up in a ledger search and is shared with others so you can make transactions.

This address, which is a shorter, more usable version of your public key, consists of between 26 and 35 random alphanumeric characters, something like 1A1zP1eP5QGefi2DMPTfTL5SLmv7DivfNa.

Keep in mind that every letter and number in that address is important. Before sending any bitcoin to your wallet,
double-check the entire address, character by character.

Also tied to your wallet address is one or more private keys, which as the name suggests should not be shared with anyone. Keys are used to verify you own the aforementioned public key, and to sign off on transactions.

Some wallets create a secure seed phrase, a set of words that will allow you to unlock your wallet if you lose your keys. Print this phrase out and keep it in a safe place.

The unfortunate truth is your bitcoin wallet is akin to your physical wallet. If you lose the private keys to your wallet, you’re most likely going to lose the currency in it forever.

Your wallet generates a master file where your public and private keys are stored. This file should be backed up in case the original file is lost or damaged. Otherwise, you risk losing access to your funds.

You can store your private keys on your computer, mobile device, on a physical storage gadget or even on a piece of paper. It’s crucial that you keep your private keys safe by generating backups both online and offline. Remember: Your wallet does not reside on any single device.

The wallet itself resides on the Bitcoin blockchain, just as your banking app doesn’t truly “hold” the cash in your checking account.

While wallet apps work well and are relatively safe, the safest option is a hardware wallet you keep offline, in a secure place. The most popular hardware wallets use special layers of security to ensure your keys are not stolen and your bitcoin is safe. But, once again, if you lose the hardware wallet your bitcoins are gone unless you have kept reliable backups of the keys. The least-secure option is an online wallet, i.e. storing your bitcoin in an exchange. This is because the keys are held by a third party. For many, the online exchange wallets are the easiest to set up and use, presenting an all-too-familiar choice: convenience versus safety. Many serious bitcoin investors use a hybrid approach: They hold a core, long-term amount of bitcoin offline in so-called “cold storage,” while keeping a spending balance in a mobile account. Depending on your bitcoin strategy and willingness to get technical, here are the different types of bitcoin wallets available. Bitcoin.org has a helper that will show you which wallet to choose. Cloud wallets exist online and the keys are usually stored in a distant server run by a third party. Cloud-based wallets tend to have a more user-friendly interface but you will be trusting a third party with your private keys, which makes your funds more susceptible to theft. Some examples of this wallet type are Coinbase, Blockchain and Bitpay Wallet. Most cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, have their own native wallets. Some offer additional security features such as offline storage (Coinbase and Xapo). With your private keys stored on a server, you have to trust the host’s security measures and also trust the host won’t disappear with your money or close down and deny you access. Software wallets can be installed directly on your computer, giving you private control of your keys. Most have relatively easy configuration and are free. The disadvantage is you are in charge of securing your keys. Software wallets also require greater security precautions. If your computer is hacked or stolen, the thief can get a copy of your wallet and your bitcoin. While you can download the original software Bitcoin Core protocol (which stores a ledger of all transactions since 2009 and takes up a lot of space), most wallets in use today are “light” wallets, or SPV (Simplified Payment Verification) wallets, which do not download the entire ledger but sync to it. Electrum is a well-known SPV desktop bitcoin wallet that also offers “cold storage” (a totally offline option for additional security). Exodus can track multiple assets with a sophisticated user interface. Some (such as Jaxx Liberty) can hold a wide range of digital assets, and some (such as Copay) offer the possibility of shared accounts. Before downloading any app, please confirm you are downloading a legitimate copy of a real wallet. Some shady programmers create clones of various crypto websites and offer downloads for free, leading to the possibility of a hack. Mobile wallets are available as apps for your smartphone, especially useful if you want to pay for something in bitcoin in a shop or if you want to buy, sell or send while on the move. All of the online wallets and most of the desktop ones mentioned above have mobile versions, while others – such as Abra, Edge and Bread – were created with mobile in mind. Remember, many online wallets will store your keys on the phone itself, leading to the possibility of losing your bitcoin if you lose your phone. Always keep a backup of your keys on a different device and print out your seed phrase. Hardware wallets are small devices that connect to the web only to enact bitcoin transactions. They are more secure because they are generally offline and therefore not hackable. They can be stolen or lost, however, along with the bitcoins that belong to the stored private keys, so it’s recommended that you backup your keys. Some large investors keep their hardware wallets in secure locations such as bank vaults. Trezor, Keepkey and Ledger are notable examples. Paper wallets are perhaps the simplest of all the wallets. Paper wallets are pieces of paper that contain the private and public keys of a bitcoin address. Ideal for the long-term storage of bitcoin (away from fire and water, of course) or for the giving of bitcoin as a gift, these wallets are more secure in that they’re not connected to a network. They are, however, easier to lose. With services such as Wallet Generator, you can easily create a new address and print the wallet on your printer. When you’re ready to top up your paper wallet you simply send some bitcoin to that address and then store it safely. Whatever option you go for, be sure to back up everything and only tell your nearest and dearest where your backups are stored. . (Note: Specific businesses mentioned here are not the only options available, and should not be taken as an official recommendation. Further, companies could go out of business and be replaced with more nefarious owners. Always protect your keys.

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