What is Cryptocurrency and How is it Obtained?

You simply can’t have a discussion involving eCash and not mention cryptocurrency. Ever since Bitcoin launched in 2009, the cryptocurrency has captured the minds of lawmakers, financial institutions, and the general public as a whole. But, what exactly is cryptocurrency and how can it be obtained.

Cryptocurrency Explained

In it’s simplest form, cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security purposes to prevent counterfeit. Cryptography, for those who are unaware, means the science of coding and decoding messages so that they remain secure. During the coding process, a key is used which is known to only the sender and the recipient.

What makes cryptocurrency unique is that it is not issued by any type of authority figure, such as a central bank. Because of this, cryptocurrency is in theory, immune to interference from bodies of government. Another feature that cryptocurrency is known for is that users can remain anonymous. The issue with anonymity is that it can be used for illegal activity like money laundering and tax evasion.

In most cases, cryptocurrency works simply when two parties transfer funds between each other. Since this involves cryptography, either a public or private keys like an RSA signature must be used to complete the transaction. Each transaction is recorded on a public ledger, also called either a distributed ledger or a blockchain, that is visible to anyone in the network. Personal information is not shared, though.

Besides security and anonymity, cryptocurrency is appealing to users because there are only minimal processing fees, as opposed to the expensive fees that most banks and financial institutions charge for transfers.

The major concern involving cryptocurrency is that because it’s a virtual or digital currency, an individual’s balance can be erased if there is a security breach or computer crash. In most instances, however, this information can be easily backed-up on the cloud. Finally, the price of cryptocurrencies is that the value can fluctuate sporadically.

A Quick Word Regarding Bitcoin

While the idea behind cryptocurrency existed years before, cryptocurrency came to the forefront in 2009 when Bitcoin was released. Bitcoin was created by a computer programmer going by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoin is an open-source, peer-to-peer digital currency that is completely decentralized. Today, Bitcoin is accepted by more than 6,000 companies that include Overstock and Virgin Galactic.

As explained by the Congressional Research Service, “Like the U.S. dollar, the Bitcoin has no intrinsic value in that it is not redeemable for some amount of another commodity, such as an ounce of gold. Unlike a dollar, a Bitcoin has no physical form, is not legal tender, and is not backed by any government or any other legal entity, and its supply is not determined by a central bank.” (In part of this Congressional Research Service report it states that the dollar is a legal currency, yet doesn’t specifically say the Bitcoin isn’t legal, it just eludes that it isn’t traceable, and therefore a concern to governments.)

Through cryptographic techniques “special users on the bitcoin network, known as miners, to gather together blocks of new transactions and compete to verify that the transactions are valid—that the buyer has the amount of Bitcoin being spent and has transferred that amount to the seller’s account. For providing this service, miners that successfully verify a block of transactions are rewarded by the network’s controlling computer algorithm with 25 newly created Bitcoins.”

How to Obtain Cryptocurrency

Whether it’s Bitcoin or one of the hundreds of alternatives on the crypto-current market, (called Altcoins, meaning an alternate cryptocurrencies – which basically means an alternative to Bitcoin) you must first download the free and open-source software. After that, there are two basic ways to obtain cryptocurrencies, according to Forbes; “mine them using a powerful computer and buy them through a crypto exchange.”

Mining Bitcoins and Altcoins, as described in PCWorld, “involves writing a short script to run in the command prompt. It’s only a few steps, which you must follow exactly to ensure success.” However, this can put a lot of stress on your computer because it must “solve complex problems that keep the respective cryptocurrency’s peer-to-peer infrastructure secure.” In exchange for their work, miners are given pieces of Bitcoins.

If you prefer to purchase Bitcoins or Altcoins, you can only do so through select and limited markets. This includes currencies on major exchanges like VaultofSatoshi, Kraken, Coinex, and BTC-e.

What makes cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin interesting is that they can be used as an investment tool and a transactional platform.