Cryptocurrencies are experiencing a moment of unprecedented attention and speculation for several reasons. 1) The value of Bitcoin has been steadily climbing through 2017, with Ether seemingly poised to overtake the cryptocurrency giant any day; 2) Blockchain technology has purposes above and beyond cryptocurrency, and has been hailed by some as the backbone of the future financial system; 3) The increasing number of people who see cryptocurrency as a form of investment similar to gold. If cryptocurrencies stabilize in value, buying Bitcoin or Ether has the potential to be a worthy venture.
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In the case of Bitcoin, miners run computer programs to verify the data that creates a complete transaction history of all Bitcoin. A technology known as the blockchain, which is used to create irreversible and traceable transactions, makes the process of verification possible. Once a miner has verified the data (which comes in a block, hence, blockchain), they are rewarded with some amount of digital currency, the same currency for which they were verifying the transaction history. So mining Bitcoin, for example, would earn you Bitcoin.
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In 1998, Wei Dai published a description of "b-money", characterized as an anonymous, distributed electronic cash system. Shortly thereafter, Nick Szabo described bit gold. Like bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that would follow it, bit gold (not to be confused with the later gold-based exchange, BitGold) was described as an electronic currency system which required users to complete a proof of work function with solutions being cryptographically put together and published. A currency system based on a reusable proof of work was later created by Hal Finney who followed the work of Dai and Szabo.
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For miners and enthusiasts though, litecoin holds a much more important difference to bitcoin, and that is its different proof of work algorithm. Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 hashing algorithm, which involves calculations that can be greatly accelerated in parallel processing. It is this characteristic that has given rise to the intense race in ASIC technology, and has caused an exponential increase in bitcoin’s difficulty level.
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^ "Bitcoin: The Cryptoanarchists' Answer to Cash". IEEE Spectrum. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Around the same time, Nick Szabo, a computer scientist who now blogs about law and the history of money, was one of the first to imagine a new digital currency from the ground up. Although many consider his scheme, which he calls "bit gold", to be a precursor to Bitcoin
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The proof-of-stake is a method of securing a cryptocurrency network and achieving distributed consensus through requesting users to show ownership of a certain amount of currency. It is different from proof-of-work systems that run difficult hashing algorithms to validate electronic transactions. The scheme is largely dependent on the coin, and there's currently no standard form of it. Some cryptocurrencies use a combined proof-of-work/proof-of-stake scheme.
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As of February 2018, the Chinese Government halted trading of virtual currency, banned initial coin offerings and shut down mining. Some Chinese miners have since relocated to Canada. One company is operating data centers for mining operations at Canadian oil and gas field sites, due to low gas prices. In June 2018, Hydro Quebec proposed to the provincial government to allocate 500 MW to crypto companies for mining. According to a February 2018 report from Fortune, Iceland has become a haven for cryptocurrency miners in part because of its cheap electricity. Prices are contained because nearly all of the country's energy comes from renewable sources, prompting more mining companies to consider opening operations in Iceland.
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Coinbase is not just a “wallet” for digital money, it is an entire platform that makes it is possible to store, transfer, buy and sell it. The process of signing up is similar to any other website. After logging in, it is possible to choose any national currency in the settings to show the relative rate of Bitcoin. In order to transfer money, it is necessary to add some to the account and then submit the information about the receiver. The latest news concerning Coinbase is that access to its system is now available for 24 countries. Coinbase offers two-factor authentication, exchange on stock markets where all operations are possible without leaving the account, instant confirmation of transfers, and partnership programs which gives users $10 for inviting friends to join the platform.
Despite the intricate technology associated with and necessary for cryptocurrency investing, speculation and possession, Coinbase has created an apparatus that makes this process remarkably easy and familiar, almost like buying and selling stocks. This screenshot from the Coinbase site shows real-time cryptocurrency prices and doesn't look too different from your ordinary online stock tracker.
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If you do have this much money tied up in Bitcoin, though, you may want a more secure space to store it. If this is the case, Coinbase offers a Coinbase vault, which has time-delayed withdrawals (giving you 48 hours to cancel a withdrawal) and the option of multiple approvers, increasing security by ensuring that all withdrawals are approved by multiple people. They also offer a multisig vault, which is basically an even more involved and more secure vault, requiring multiple keys to unlock.
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The platform stores 98% of customers funds offline to ensure the security of the cryptocurrency assets you purchase and store within Coinbase. On their website, Coinbase assures customers that "sensitive data that would normally reside on our servers is disconnected entirely from the internet." Data is then encrypted, and transferred to USB drives and paper backups, and distributed in safe deposit boxes vaults all over the world.