Cryptocurrency is a new phenomenon in our world, and though it is more than 13 years old, it is still being misrepresented by many, While some believe it to be a new form of money, others consider it just a buzzword. However, there is so much more to the story.
What is Cryptocurrency and how does it work?
Cryptocurrency, is any form of currency that exists digitally or virtually and uses cryptography to secure transactions.
Cryptocurrencies don’t have a central issuing or regulating authority, instead using a decentralized system to record transactions and issue new units.
Cryptocurrency is a digital payment system that doesn’t rely on banks to verify transactions. It’s a peer-to-peer system that can enable anyone anywhere to send and receive payments. Instead of being physical money carried around and exchanged in the real world, cryptocurrency payments exist purely as digital entries to an online database describing specific transactions. When you transfer cryptocurrency funds, the transactions are recorded in a public ledger. Cryptocurrency is stored in digital wallets.
Cryptocurrency received its name because it uses encryption to verify transactions. This means advanced coding is involved in storing and transmitting cryptocurrency data between wallets and to public ledgers. The aim of encryption is to provide security and safety.
The first cryptocurrency was Bitcoin, which was founded in 2009 and remains the best known today. Much of the interest in cryptocurrencies is to trade for profit, with speculators at times driving prices skyward.
How does cryptocurrency work?
Cryptocurrencies run on a distributed public ledger called blockchain, a record of all transactions updated and held by currency holders.
Units of cryptocurrency are created through a process called mining, which involves using computer power to solve complicated mathematical problems that generate coins. Users can also buy the currencies from brokers, then store and spend them using cryptographic wallets.
If you own cryptocurrency, you don’t own anything tangible. What you own is a key that allows you to move a record or a unit of measure from one person to another without a trusted third party.
Although Bitcoin has been around since 2009, cryptocurrencies and applications of blockchain technology are still emerging in financial terms, and more uses are expected in the future. Transactions including bonds, stocks, and other financial assets could eventually be traded using the technology.
What is blockchain?
A blockchain is a technology that ingrains all the registered and recorded data of different regions. In regards to cryptocurrencies, the information and data are collected when the transactions take place. In short, the data is the transaction history. Thus, it elucidates how possession has changed over time.
There are thousands of cryptocurrencies. Some of the best known include:
Founded in 2009, Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency and is still the most commonly traded. The currency was developed by Satoshi Nakamoto – widely believed to be a pseudonym for an individual or group of people whose precise identity remains unknown.
Developed in 2015, Ethereum is a blockchain platform with its own cryptocurrency, called Ether (ETH) or Ethereum. It is the most popular cryptocurrency after Bitcoin.
This currency is most similar to bitcoin but has moved more quickly to develop new innovations, including faster payments and processes to allow more transactions.
Ripple is a distributed ledger system that was founded in 2012. Ripple can be used to track different kinds of transactions, not just cryptocurrency. The company behind it has worked with various banks and financial institutions.
Non-Bitcoin cryptocurrencies are collectively known as “altcoins” to distinguish them from the original.
How to buy cryptocurrency
You may be wondering how to buy cryptocurrency safely. There are typically three steps involved. These are:
Step 1: Choosing a platform
The first step is deciding which platform to use. Generally, you can choose between a traditional broker or dedicated cryptocurrency exchange:
- Traditional brokers. These are online brokers who offer ways to buy and sell cryptocurrency, as well as other financial assets like stocks, bonds, and ETFs. These platforms tend to offer lower trading costs but fewer crypto features.
- Cryptocurrency exchanges. There are many cryptocurrency exchanges to choose from, each offering different cryptocurrencies, wallet storage, interest-bearing account options, and more. Many exchanges charge asset-based fees.
When comparing different platforms, consider which cryptocurrencies are on offer, what fees they charge, their security features, storage and withdrawal options, and any educational resources.
Step 2: Funding your account
Once you have chosen your platform, the next step is to fund your account so you can begin trading. Most crypto exchanges allow users to purchase crypto using fiat (i.e., government-issued) currencies such as the US Dollar, the British Pound, or the Euro using their debit or credit cards – although this varies by platform.
Crypto purchases with credit cards are considered risky, and some exchanges don’t support them. Some credit card companies don’t allow crypto transactions either. This is because cryptocurrencies are highly volatile, and it is not advisable to risk going into debt — or potentially paying high credit card transaction fees — for certain assets.
Some platforms will also accept ACH transfers and wire transfers. The accepted payment methods and time taken for deposits or withdrawals differ per platform. Equally, the time taken for deposits to clear varies by payment method.
An important factor to consider is fees. These include potential deposit and withdrawal transaction fees plus trading fees. Fees will vary by payment method and platform, which is something to research at the outset.
Step 3: Placing an order
You can place an order via your broker’s or exchange’s web or mobile platform. If you are planning to buy cryptocurrencies, you can do so by selecting “buy,” choosing the order type, entering the number of cryptocurrencies you want to purchase, and confirming the order. The same process applies to “sell” orders.
There are also other ways to invest in crypto. These include payment services like PayPal, Cash App, and Venmo, which allow users to buy, sell, or hold cryptocurrencies. In addition, there are the following investment vehicles:
- Bitcoin trusts: You can buy shares of Bitcoin trusts with a regular brokerage account. These vehicles give retail investors exposure to crypto through the stock market.
- Bitcoin mutual funds: There are Bitcoin ETFs and Bitcoin mutual funds to choose from.
- Blockchain stocks or ETFs: You can also indirectly invest in crypto through blockchain companies that specialize in the technology behind crypto and crypto transactions. Alternatively, you can buy stocks or ETFs of companies that use blockchain technology.
The best option for you will depend on your investment goals and risk appetite.
How to store cryptocurrency
Once you have purchased cryptocurrency, you need to store it safely to protect it from hacks or theft. Usually, cryptocurrency is stored in crypto wallets, which are physical devices or online software used to store the private keys to your cryptocurrencies securely. Some exchanges provide wallet services, making it easy for you to store directly through the platform. However, not all exchanges or brokers automatically provide wallet services for you.
There are different wallet providers to choose from. The terms “hot wallet” and “cold wallet” are used:
- Hot wallet storage: “hot wallets” refer to crypto storage that uses online software to protect the private keys to your assets.
- Cold wallet storage: Unlike hot wallets, cold wallets (also known as hardware wallets) rely on offline electronic devices to securely store your private keys.
Typically, cold wallets tend to charge fees, while hot wallets don’t.
What can you buy with cryptocurrency?
When it was first launched, Bitcoin was intended to be a medium for daily transactions, making it possible to buy everything from a cup of coffee to a computer or even big-ticket items like real estate. That hasn’t quite materialized and, while the number of institutions accepting cryptocurrencies is growing, large transactions involving it are rare. Even so, it is possible to buy a wide variety of products from e-commerce websites using crypto. Here are some examples:
Technology and e-commerce sites:
Several companies that sell tech products accept crypto on their websites, such as newegg.com, AT&T, and Microsoft. Overstock, an e-commerce platform, was among the first sites to accept Bitcoin. Shopify, Rakuten, and Home Depot also accept it.
Some luxury retailers accept crypto as a form of payment. For example, online luxury retailer Bit dials offers Rolex, Patek Philippe, and other high-end watches in return for Bitcoin.
Some car dealers – from mass-market brands to high-end luxury dealers – already accept cryptocurrency as payment.
In April 2021, Swiss insurer AXA announced that it had begun accepting Bitcoin as a mode of payment for all its lines of insurance except life insurance (due to regulatory issues). Premier Shield Insurance, which sells home and auto insurance policies in the US, also accepts Bitcoin for premium payments.
If you want to spend cryptocurrency at a retailer that doesn’t accept it directly, you can use a cryptocurrency debit card, such as Bit Pay in the US.
Cryptocurrency fraud and cryptocurrency scams
Unfortunately, cryptocurrency crime is on the rise. Cryptocurrency scams include:
Fake websites: Bogus sites which feature fake testimonials and crypto jargon promising massive, guaranteed returns, provided you keep investing.
Virtual Ponzi schemes: Cryptocurrency criminals promote non-existent opportunities to invest in digital currencies and create the illusion of huge returns by paying off old investors with new investors’ money. One scam operation, Bit Club Network, raised more than $700 million before its perpetrators were indicted in December 2019.
“Celebrity” endorsements: Scammers pose online as billionaires or well-known names who promise to multiply your investment in a virtual currency but instead steal what you send. They may also use messaging apps or chat rooms to start rumors that a famous businessperson is backing a specific cryptocurrency. Once they have encouraged investors to buy and driven up the price, the scammers sell their stake, and the currency reduces in value.
Romance scams: The FBI warns of a trend in online dating scams, where tricksters persuade people, they meet on dating apps or social media to invest or trade in virtual currencies. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre fielded more than 1,800 reports of crypto-focused romance scams in the first seven months of 2021, with losses reaching $133 million.
Otherwise, fraudsters may pose as legitimate virtual currency traders or set up bogus exchanges to trick people into giving them money. Another crypto scam involves fraudulent sales pitches for individual retirement accounts in cryptocurrencies. Then there is straightforward cryptocurrency hacking, where criminals break into the digital wallets where people store their virtual currency to steal it.
Is cryptocurrency safe?
Cryptocurrencies are usually built using blockchain technology. Blockchain describes the way transactions are recorded into “blocks” and time stamped. It’s a fairly complex, technical process, but the result is a digital ledger of cryptocurrency transactions that’s hard for hackers to tamper with.
In addition, transactions require a two-factor authentication process. For instance, you might be asked to enter a username and password to start a transaction. Then, you might have to enter an authentication code sent via text to your personal cell phone.
While securities are in place, that does not mean cryptocurrencies are un-hackable. Several high-dollar hacks have cost cryptocurrency start-ups heavily. Hackers hit Coin check to the tune of $534 million and Bit Grail for $195 million, making them two of the biggest cryptocurrency hacks of 2018.
Unlike government-backed money, the value of virtual currencies is driven entirely by supply and demand. This can create wild swings that produce significant gains for investors or big losses. And cryptocurrency investments are subject to far less regulatory protection than traditional financial products like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.
What is Cryptography?
Is a method for protecting information and communications through codes. The codes
Ensure that only the intended receivers can read and process the messages.
“crypt” means hidden, and graphy means writing
Those that practice it are cryptographers.
Modern cryptography has four main standards:
- Confidentiality: only the intended receiver can understand the information.
- Integrity: no one can change the information while it is
- In storage without the change being detected
Repudiation: the information creator or sender can never deny their intent in the info’s creation and transmission
- Authentication: the sender and receiver can both confirm each other’s identity as well as the origin or destination of the information.
Cryptography techniques are derived from mathematical concepts.
They use algorithms or rule-based calculations to send message in ways that are hard to read.
The algorithms create a cryptographic key they control digital signing and verification in order to protect data privacy, internet browsing, and confidential communications.
These include emails and credit card transactions.
Modern cryptography is most often associated with translating ordinary readable text called plain text into encrypted unreadable text called cipher text, and then back again to deciphered plain text.
There are two types of cryptography:
- Single key encryption algorithms and
- Public key encryption algorithms.
Single key or symmetric encryption algorithms create a fixed length of bits called block cipher
This block cipher has a secret key the creator or sender can use to encrypt the data and the receiver can use to read it.
Public key or asymmetric encryption algorithms use a pair of keys: one is a public key associated with the creator or sender to encrypt messages, and the other is a private key that only the data is originator knows for decrypting information.
A procedure or protocol that meets all the standards is known as a cryptosystem.