What is a 'Cryptocurrency'

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security. A cryptocurrency is difficult to counterfeit because of this security feature. A defining feature of a cryptocurrency, and arguably its most endearing allure, is its organic nature; it is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.

BREAKING DOWN 'Cryptocurrency'

The anonymous nature of cryptocurrency transactions makes them well-suited for a host of nefarious activities, such as money laundering and tax evasion.The first cryptocurrency to capture the public imagination was Bitcoin, which was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. As of September 2015, there were over 14.6 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of $3.4 billion. Bitcoin's success has spawned a number of competing cryptocurrencies, such as Litecoin, Namecoin and PPCoin.

Cryptocurrency Benefits and Drawbacks

Cryptocurrencies make it easier to transfer funds between two parties in a transaction; these transfers are facilitated through the use of public and private keys for security purposes. These fund transfers are done with minimal processing fees, allowing users to avoid the steep fees charged by most banks and financial institutions for wire transfers.

Central to the genius of Bitcoin is the block chain it uses to store an online ledger of all the transactions that have ever been conducted using bitcoins, providing a data structure for this ledger that is exposed to a limited threat from hackers and can be copied across all computers running Bitcoin software. Many experts see this block chain as having important uses in technologies, such as online voting and crowdfunding, and major financial institutions such as JP Morgan Chase see potential in cryptocurrencies to lower transaction costs by making payment processing more efficient. However, because cryptocurrencies are virtual and do not have a central repository, a digital cryptocurrency balance can be wiped out by a computer crash if a backup copy of the holdings does not exist. Since prices are based on supply and demand, the rate at which a cryptocurrency can be exchanged for another currency can fluctuate widely.

Cryptocurrencies are not immune to the threat of hacking. In Bitcoin's short history, the company has been subject to over 40 thefts, including a few that exceeded $1 million in value. Still, many observers look at cryptocurrencies as hope that a currency can exist that preserves value, facilitates exchange, is more transportable than hard metals, and is outside the influence of central banks and governments. The smallest unit of the bitcoin cryptocurrency. Satoshi is named after Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of the protocol used in block chains and the bitcoin cryptocurrency.


Unlike the physical versions of global currencies, such as the British pound or U.S. dollar, cryptocurrencies predominately exist in the digital world. Despite this difference, a cryptocurrency can be divided into smaller units, just as the pound is broken into pence and the dollar into cents. In the case of bitcoins, the smallest unit available is called the satoshi.

Digital Copy

A duplicate record of every confirmed Bitcoin transaction that has taken place over a peer-to-peer network. Digital copy is one of the security features of the Bitcoin platform that was implemented in order to tackle the problem of double spending.

BREAKING DOWN 'Digital Copy'

The rise of cryptocurrencies became prominent in 2009 with the introduction of Bitcoin. One of the catalysts behind the creation of Bitcoin was the desire to operate in a currency that could not be controlled by any central authority. Unlike the U.S. dollar, which can have its value adjusted for inflationary measures by the Federal Reserve, the Bitcoin is independent of any controlling body. In fact, no one controls the Bitcoin. The Bitcoin operates through a decentralized system which means a network of independent computers worldwide communicate and transmit Bitcoin transactions and data to each other. However, transacting in digital currency using a decentralized system brought about a problem known as double spending.

Bitcoin Exchange

 A bitcoin exchange is a digital marketplace where traders can buy and sell bitcoins using different fiat currencies or altcoins. A bitcoin currency exchange is an online platform that acts as an intermediary between buyers and sellers of the cryptocurrency. The currency ticker used for bitcoin is either BTC or XBT.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bitcoin Exchange'

Bitcoin exchange platforms match buyers with sellers. Like a traditional stock exchange, traders can opt to buy and sell bitcoin by inputting either a market order or a limit order. When a market order is selected, the trader is authorizing the exchange to trade his coins for the best available price in the online marketplace. With a limit order set, the trader directs the exchange to trade coins for a price below the current ask or above the current bid, depending on whether s/he is buying or selling.

Bitcoin Unlimited

A proposed upgrade to Bitcoin Core that allows larger block sizes. Bitcoin Unlimited is designed to improve transaction speed through scale.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bitcoin Unlimited'

The development of bitcoin was jumpstarted by Satoshi Nakamoto, who published a paper in 2008 called “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. The paper described the use of a peer-to-peer network as a solution to the problem of double-spending. The problem – that a digital currency or token can used in more than one transaction – is not found in physical currencies, as a physical bill or coin can, by its nature, only exist in one place at a single time. Since a digital currency does not exist in the physical space, using it in a transaction does not remove it from someone’s possession.

Bitcoin Classic

A fork from Bitcoin Core that proposed increasing the size of blocks. Despite early successes, Bitcoin Classic failed to be adopted by the wider bitcoin community.

BREAKING DOWN 'Bitcoin Classic'

Bitcoin was jumpstarted by Satoshi Nakamoto, who published a paper in 2008 called “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. The paper described the use of a peer-to-peer network as a solution to the problem of bitcoin for more than one transaction), with transaction details added to the end of block chains. Because of the computational power needed to attack and decode a block chain, bitcoin is able to retain a high level of security. This limited the need for transactions to go through trusted third-parties, such as financial institutions.


Launched in the year 2011, Litecoin is an alternative cryptocurrency based on the model of Bitcoin. Charlie Lee, a MIT graduate and former Google engineer, is Litecoin's creator. Litecoin is based on an open source global payment network that is not controlled by any central authority. Litecoin differs from Bitcoins in aspects like faster block generation rate and use of scrypt as a proof of work scheme. 


Litecoins were launched with the aim of being the "silver" to Bitcoin's "gold," and have gained much popularity since the time of inception. Litecoin is a peer-to-peer internet currency. It is a fully decentralized open source, global payment network. Litecoin was developed with the aim to improve on Bitcoin's shortcomings, and has earned industry support along with high trade volume and liquidity over the years. The broader differences between the two cryptocurrencies are listed in the table below.


coins are the alternative cryptocurrencies launched after the success of Bitcoin. Generally, they project themselves as better substitutes to Bitcoin. The success of Bitcoin as the first peer-to-peer digital currency paved the way for many to follow. Many altcoins are trying to target any perceived limitations that Bitcoin has and come up with newer versions with competitive advantages. There is a great variety of altcoins.


"Altcoin" is a combination of two words: "alt" and "coin"; alt is short for alternative and coin signifies currency. Thus together they imply a category of cryptocurrency that is alternative to the digital currency Bitcoin. After the success story of Bitcoin, many other peer-to-peer digital currencies have emerged in an attempt to imitate that success.

Bitcoin XT

A fork from Bitcoin Core that proposed increasing the size of blocks from one megabyte to eight megabytes. Bitcoin XT gained first attention in 2015.


Bitcoin was started by Satoshi Nakamoto in the 2008 paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” The paper described the use of a peer-to-peer network as a solution to the problem of double-spending, with transaction details added to the end of blockchains. Managing the blockchains required substantial computational power in order to maintain security.


An anonymization strategy that protects the privacy of Bitcoin users when they conduct transactions with each other. Coinjoin requires multiple parties to jointly sign on an agreement to mix their coins when engaging in separate Bitcoin transactions. Also known as Coin Mixing.


Advancements in technology are introducing digital tools that companies can use to better interact with their customers. A rising shift from traditional platforms to digital platforms has also brought about an abundant supply in data from sources like social media, mobile devices, online retail platforms, etc. Due to technology advancements in the areas of gathering, storing, and sharing data, large sets of data are easily shared among companies in every sector and country for little to no costs. The widespread accessibility of data has also brought about concerns over data privacy of individuals and their online transactions. Because every transaction or activity carried out online leaves a digital trail, individuals are opting for more anonymous ways to use the internet and conduct online transactions. The Bitcoin cryptocurrency was introduced to address the issue of privacy concern.

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