Technology Training

Bitcoin – Simplified

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a new kind of money. It’s the first decentralized electronic currency not controlled by a single organization or government. It’s an open source project, and it is used by more than 100,000 people. All over the world people are trading hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin every day with no middle man and no credit card companies. It’s a startup currency which has never happened before.

Bitcoin is the first digital currency that is completely distributed. The network is made up of users like yourself so no bank or payment processor is required between you and whoever you’re trading with. This decentralization is the basis for Bitcoin’s security and freedom. Email let us send letters for free, anywhere in the world. Skype lets us make phone and video calls for free, anywhere in the world. Now there’s bitcoin. Bitcoin lets you send money to anyone online, anywhere in the world for less than a cent per transaction! Bitcoin is a community run system not controlled by any bank or government. There’s no wallstreet banker getting rich by standing between you and the people you want to send and receive money from.

Who created Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the first implementation of a concept called crypto-currency”, which was first described in 1998 by Wei Dai on the cypherpunks mailing list, suggesting the idea of a new form of money that uses cryptography to control its creation and transactions, rather than a central authority. The first Bitcoin specification and proof of concept was published in 2009 in a cryptography mailing list by Satoshi Nakamoto. Satoshi left the project in late 2010 without revealing much about himself. The community has since grown exponentially with many developers working on Bitcoin. Satoshi’s anonymity often raised unjustified concerns, many of which are linked to misunderstanding of the open-source nature of Bitcoin. The Bitcoin protocol and software are published openly and any developer around the world can review the code or make their own modified version of the Bitcoin software. Just like current developers, Satoshi’s influence was limited to the changes he made being adopted by others and therefore he did not control Bitcoin. As such, the identity of Bitcoin’s inventor is probably as relevant today as the identity of the person who invented paper.

Who controls the Bitcoin network?

Nobody owns the Bitcoin network much like no one owns the technology behind email. Bitcoin is controlled by all Bitcoin users around the world. While developers are improving the software, they can’t force a change in the Bitcoin protocol because all users are free to choose what software and version they use. In order to stay compatible with each other, all users need to use software complying with the same rules. Bitcoin can only work correctly with a complete consensus among all users. Therefore, all users and developers have a strong incentive to protect this consensus.

How does Bitcoin work?

From a user perspective, Bitcoin is nothing more than a mobile app or computer program that provides a personal Bitcoin wallet and allows a user to send and receive bitcoins with them. This is how Bitcoin works for most users.

Behind the scenes, the Bitcoin network is sharing a public ledger called the “block chain”. This ledger contains every transaction ever processed, allowing a user’s computer to verify the validity of each transaction. The authenticity of each transaction is protected by digital signatures corresponding to the sending addresses, allowing all users to have full control over sending bitcoins from their own Bitcoin addresses. In addition, anyone can process transactions using the computing power of specialized hardware and earn a reward in bitcoins for this service. This is often called “mining”.

How are bitcoins created?

New bitcoins are generated by a competitive and decentralized process called “mining”. This process involves individuals that are rewarded by the network for their services. Bitcoin miners are processing transactions and securing the network using specialized hardware and are collecting new bitcoins in exchange. The Bitcoin protocol is designed in such a way that new bitcoins are created at a fixed rate. This makes Bitcoin mining a very competitive business. When more miners join the network, it becomes increasingly difficult to make a profit and miners must seek efficiency to cut their operating costs. No central authority or developer has any power to control or manipulate the system to increase their profits. Every Bitcoin node in the world will reject anything that does not comply with the rules it expects the system to follow. Bitcoins are created at a decreasing and predictable rate. The number of new bitcoins created each year is automatically halved over time until bitcoin issuance halts completely with a total of 21 million bitcoins in existence. At this point, Bitcoin miners will probably be supported exclusively by numerous small transaction fees.

 

What exactly is Bitcoin mining?

The way Bitcoin works is that instead of having one central authority who secures and controls the money supply (like most governments do for their national currencies), this work is spread out all across the network. Most of the heavy lifting for Bitcoin is done by “miners”. Miners collect the transactions on the network (like “Alice pays Karim 10 bitcoins” and “Liam pays Sofia 8.3 bitcoins”) into large bundles called blocks. These blocks are strung together into one continuous, authoritative record called the block chain, which doesn’t permit any conflicting transactions. This is necessary because without it people would be able to sign the same bitcoins over to two different recipients, like writing cheques for more money than you have in your account. The block chain lets you know for sure exactly which transactions count and can be trusted (so no bad cheques!). The way Bitcoin makes sure there is only one block chain is by making blocks really hard to produce. So instead of just being able to make blocks at will, miners have to compute a cryptographic hash of the block that meets certain criteria. Bitcoiners refer to this process as “hashing”.

The only way to find a cryptographic hash that’s “good enough to count” is to try computing a whole bunch of them until you get lucky and find one that works. This is like “lottery” because miners who successfully create a block are rewarded some bitcoins according to a preset schedule. The difficulty of the criteria for the hash is continually adjusted based on how frequently blocks are appearing, so more competition equals more work needed to find a block. A modern GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) can try hundreds of millions of hashes per second, so to be competitive in this race to find hashes miners need specialised hardware, otherwise they will tend to spend more on electricity than they make in the “lottery”. In addition to the hash criteria, a block needs to contain only valid, non-conflicting transactions. So the other main task for miners is to carefully validate all the transactions that go into their blocks, otherwise they won’t get any reward for their work!

Why is it called “Mining”

In the original analogy, people who performed this essential work were compared to gold miners digging the gold out of the ground so that everyone could use it. But in reality, Bitcoin “miners” are just running computer programs on very specialised hardware that automates the process of securing the network. To sum up, this software

  • Collects transactions from the network
  • Validates them, and doesn’t allow conflicting ones
  • Puts them into large bundles called blocks
  • Computes cryptographic hashes over and over until if finds one “good enough to count”
  • Then submits the block to the network, adding it to the block chain and earning a reward in return.

That’s mining in a nutshell!

Is Bitcoin really used by people?

Yes. There is a growing number of businesses and individuals using Bitcoin. This includes brick and mortar businesses like restaurants, apartments, law firms, and popular online services such as Microsoft, Dell, Virgin Airlines and Newegg. While Bitcoin remains a relatively new phenomenon, it is growing fast. At the end of March 2016, the value of all bitcoins in circulation exceeded US$ 6.5 billion with millions of dollars worth of bitcoins exchanged daily.

How does one acquire bitcoins?

While it may be possible to find individuals who wish to sell bitcoins in exchange for a credit card or PayPal payment, most exchanges do not allow funding via these payment methods. This is due to cases where someone buys bitcoins with PayPal, and then reverses their half of the transaction. This is commonly referred to as a chargeback.

How difficult is it to make a Bitcoin payment?

Bitcoin payments are easier to make than debit or credit card purchases, and can be received without a merchant account. Payments are made from a wallet application, either on your computer or smartphone, by entering the recipient’s address, the payment amount, and pressing send. To make it easier to enter a recipient’s address, many wallets can obtain the address by scanning a QR code or touching two phones together with NFC technology.

What factors influence the Bitcoin price?

  1. Government Regulation

Each time a government releases official statements about the regulation of digital currencies, the price of bitcoin is normally affected. Even if the actions of that government are not related to the virtual currencies directly, the impact will still be felt. A good example of this can be derived from the Cyprus banking crisis, where the government seized funds. This prompted discussions on whether Cyprus should adopt Bitcoins as their new currency. Anytime there are restrictions on the use of bitcoins, their price changes drastically. However, because of the anonymous nature of the bitcoin transactions, most governments are proposing certain rules to eliminate this anonymity. For instance, there have been proposals to create a third party supervision mechanism for bitcoin exchanges. This is bound to significantly affect the bitcoin price.

  1. Media Influence

The media can also influence the bitcoin price significantly. Media hype can easily lead to an increase in the price, while negative news can lead to a decline in the price. For instance, news about bankruptcy or hacks on bitcoin-related websites and services can cause panic and disruption among bitcoin users, leading to price dips. Negative news about government involvement and regulations as well as news on the use of bitcoins in illegal dealings such as drug transactions and money laundering tends to have the same impact on the bitcoin price.

  1. Stability of the Bitcoin Network

Stability of the bitcoin network is a major factor that most bitcoin enthusiasts are concerned about. Most people want a secure network where they will not lose their money. Unlike the conventional currencies like euros and dollars, bitcoins are largely perceived as economic bubbles as they are only valuable when exchanged with other currencies, but do not have any inherent value on their own. If most people and business organizations stopped accepting bitcoins, the “bubble” would burst, leading to a fall in the bitcoin price.

  1. The Bitcoin Demand and Supply

The price of bitcoins is largely depended on the demand and supply. This means that high demand and low supply often leads to an increase in the price. Note that bitcoins have a controlled supply whereby the total number of bitcoins in circulation must never be more than 21 million. Due to the limited supply, there are speculations that the bitcoin price will continue to rise with time.

  1. Wider Mainstream Acceptance

This is another major factor that influences the price of this crypto-currency significantly. Even if it has faced a number of challenges and detractors, many well-known companies and businesses have started accepting bitcoins as a means of transaction. For instance, sites such as Reddit and WordPress are currently accepting bitcoins as a means of payment. A number of Brick and Mortar enterprises in the US have also started accepting bitcoins as payment for their services. An increase in the number of venders accepting this type of currency will definitely lead to an increase in the price of bitcoins.

  1. Large Businesses Dumping to Fiat Currency

Given that bitcoins are not widely accepted as a means of transactions or payment, not many people and institutions can accept them. Because most things still have to be paid for in fiat currencies, many businesses often sell large portions of bitcoins so as to pay for their business expenses. This is normally referred to as “dumping” and it can keep the value and price of bitcoins in a depressed state. Based on the amount of bitcoins and the number of companies selling them at any given time, this can cause a “panic sell,” which may send the bitcoin price crashing.

  1. Technological Changes and Innovations

Technological advancement and innovations also have the ability to influence the bitcoin price. For instance, the integration of bitcoins in PayPal’s payment system has raised awareness and stimulated a lot of interest in digital currencies among most people. Moreover, many startups have also started utilizing crowdfunding platforms which accept crypto-currencies, with Ethereum being the best example. Blockstream is another innovation that could provide added functionalities to bitcoins, which will in turn boost their overall value and price. The platform was started so as to develop new ways of accelerating innovations in these types of currencies and smart contracts.

  1. Market Manipulation

This is another major factor that can influence the bitcoin price. For instance, traders can sometimes purchase huge chunks of bitcoins from the market so as to make the price to appear like it is rising before dumping them back to the market, hence making unheard-of profits from the same. Extreme cases such as a 51 percent mining attack or the release of bitcoin codes due to hacking can also dramatically affect the bitcoin price as most people will be compelled to sell their bitcoins in fear of making loses.

What are the advantages of Bitcoin?

  • Payment freedom – It is possible to send and receive any amount of money instantly anywhere in the world at any time. No bank holidays. No borders. No imposed limits. Bitcoin allows its users to be in full control of their money.
  • Very low fees – Bitcoin payments are currently processed with either no fees or extremely small fees. Users may include fees with transactions to receive priority processing, which results in faster confirmation of transactions by the network. Additionally, merchant processors exist to assist merchants in processing transactions, converting bitcoins to fiat currency and depositing funds directly into merchants’ bank accounts daily. As these services are based on Bitcoin, they can be offered for much lower fees than with PayPal or credit card networks.
  • Fewer risks for merchants – Bitcoin transactions are secure, irreversible, and do not contain customers’ sensitive or personal information. This protects merchants from losses caused by fraud or fraudulent chargebacks, and there is no need for PCI compliance. Merchants can easily expand to new markets where either credit cards are not available or fraud rates are unacceptably high. The net results are lower fees, larger markets, and fewer administrative costs.
  • Security and control – Bitcoin users are in full control of their transactions; it is impossible for merchants to force unwanted or unnoticed charges as can happen with other payment methods. Bitcoin payments can be made without personal information tied to the transaction. This offers strong protection against identity theft. Bitcoin users can also protect their money with backup and encryption.
  • Transparent and neutral – All information concerning the Bitcoin money supply itself is readily available on the block chain for anybody to verify and use in real-time. No individual or organization can control or manipulate the Bitcoin protocol because it is cryptographically secure. This allows the core of Bitcoin to be trusted for being completely neutral, transparent and predictable.

 

What are the disadvantages of Bitcoin?

  • Degree of acceptance – Many people are still unaware of Bitcoin. Every day, more businesses accept bitcoins because they want the advantages of doing so, but the list remains small and still needs to grow in order to benefit from network effects.
  • Volatility – The total value of bitcoins in circulation and the number of businesses using Bitcoin are still very small compared to what they could be. Therefore, relatively small events, trades, or business activities can significantly affect the price. In theory, this volatility will decrease as Bitcoin markets, the technology matures and Bitcoin interest rates normalize. Never before has the world seen a start-up currency, so it is truly difficult (and exciting) to imagine how it will play out.
  • Ongoing development – Bitcoin software is still in beta with many incomplete features in active development. New tools, features, and services are being developed to make Bitcoin more secure and accessible to the masses. Some of these are still not ready for everyone. Most Bitcoin businesses are new and still offer no insurance. In general, Bitcoin is still in the process of maturing.

Do people trust Bitcoin?

Much of the trust in Bitcoin comes from the fact that it requires no trust at all. Bitcoin is fully open-source and decentralized. This means that anyone has access to the entire source code at any time. Any developer in the world can therefore verify exactly how Bitcoin works. All transactions and bitcoins issued into existence can be transparently consulted in real-time by anyone. All payments can be made without reliance on a third party and the whole system is protected by heavily peer-reviewed cryptographic algorithms like those used for online banking. No organization or individual can control Bitcoin, and the network remains secure even if not all of its users can be trusted.

 

Can I make money with Bitcoin?

You should never expect to get rich with Bitcoin or any emerging technology. It is always important to be wary of anything that sounds too good to be true or disobeys basic economic rules. Bitcoin is a growing space of innovation and there are business opportunities that also include risks. There is no guarantee that Bitcoin will continue to grow even though it has developed at a very fast rate so far. Investing time and resources on anything related to Bitcoin requires entrepreneurship. There are various ways to make money with Bitcoin such as mining, speculation or running new businesses. All of these methods are competitive and there is no guarantee of profit. It is up to each individual to make a proper evaluation of the costs and the risks involved in any such project.

 

Is Bitcoin anonymous?

Bitcoin is designed to allow its users to send and receive payments with an acceptable level of privacy as well as any other form of money. However, Bitcoin is not anonymous and cannot offer the same level of privacy as cash. The use of Bitcoin leaves extensive public records. Various mechanisms exist to protect users’ privacy, and more are in development. However, there is still work to be done before these features are used correctly by most Bitcoin users. Some concerns have been raised that private transactions could be used for illegal purposes with Bitcoin. However, it is worth noting that Bitcoin will undoubtedly be subjected to similar regulations that are already in place inside existing financial systems. Bitcoin cannot be more anonymous than cash and it is not likely to prevent criminal investigations from being conducted. Additionally, Bitcoin is also designed to prevent a large range of financial crimes. Bitcoin transactions are pseudo-anonymous. The inputs in every transaction can be tracked in the blockchain to every previous transaction’s outputs. However, there are Bitcoin privacy technologies being developed.

 

What happens when bitcoins are lost?

When a user loses his wallet, it has the effect of removing money out of circulation. Lost bitcoins still remain in the block chain just like any other bitcoins. However, lost bitcoins remain dormant forever because there is no way for anybody to find the private key(s) that would allow them to be spent again. Because of the law of supply and demand, when fewer bitcoins are available, the ones that are left will be in higher demand and increase in value to compensate.

 

Is Bitcoin legal?

To the best of our knowledge, Bitcoin has not been made illegal by legislation in most jurisdictions. However, some jurisdictions (such as Argentina and Russia) severely restrict or ban foreign currencies. Other jurisdictions (such as Thailand) may limit the licensing of certain entities such as Bitcoin exchanges. Regulators from various jurisdictions are taking steps to provide individuals and businesses with rules on how to integrate this new technology with the formal, regulated financial system. For example, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau in the United States Treasury Department, issued non-binding guidance on how it characterizes certain activities involving virtual currencies.

 

Is Bitcoin useful for illegal activities?

Bitcoin is money, and money has always been used both for legal and illegal purposes. Cash, credit cards and current banking systems widely surpass Bitcoin in terms of their use to finance crime. Bitcoin can bring significant innovation in payment systems and the benefits of such innovation are often considered to be far beyond their potential drawbacks. Bitcoin is designed to be a huge step forward in making money more secure and could also act as a significant protection against many forms of financial crime. For instance, bitcoins are completely impossible to counterfeit. Users are in full control of their payments and cannot receive unapproved charges such as with credit card fraud. Bitcoin transactions are irreversible and immune to fraudulent chargebacks. Bitcoin allows money to be secured against theft and loss using very strong and useful mechanisms such as backups, encryption, and multiple signatures. Some concerns have been raised that Bitcoin could be more attractive to criminals because it can be used to make private and irreversible payments. However, these features already exist with cash and wire transfer, which are widely used and well-established. The use of Bitcoin will undoubtedly be subjected to similar regulations that are already in place inside existing financial systems, and Bitcoin is not likely to prevent criminal investigations from being conducted. In general, it is common for important breakthroughs to be perceived as being controversial before their benefits are well understood. The Internet is a good example among many others to illustrate this.

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