A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that is secured by cryptography, which makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit or double-spend. Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized networks based on blockchain technology—a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. A defining feature of cryptocurrencies is that they are generally not issued by any central authority, rendering them theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A cryptocurrency is a new form of digital asset based on a network that is distributed across a large number of computers. This decentralized structure allows them to exist outside the control of governments and central authorities.
  • The word “cryptocurrency” is derived from the encryption techniques which are used to secure the network.
  • Blockchains, which are organizational methods for ensuring the integrity of transactional data, is an essential component of many cryptocurrencies.
  • Many experts believe that blockchain and related technology will disrupt many industries, including finance and law. 
  • Cryptocurrencies face criticism for a number of reasons, including their use for illegal activities, exchange rate volatility, and vulnerabilities of the infrastructure underlying them. However, they also have been praised for their portability, divisibility, inflation resistance.

How Cryptocurrency Works

Cryptocurrencies are systems that allow for the secure payments online which are denominated in terms of virtual “tokens,” which are represented by ledger entries internal to the system. “Crypto” refers to the various encryption algorithms and cryptographic techniques that safeguard these entries, such as elliptical curve encryption, public-private key pairs, and hashing functions.

Types of Cryptocurrency

The first blockchain-based cryptocurrency was Bitcoin, which still remains the most popular and most valuable. Today, there are thousands of alternate cryptocurrencies with various functions and specifications. Some of these are clones or forks of Bitcoin, while others arenew currencies that were built from scratch.

Bitcoin was launched in 2009 by an individual or group known by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto.” As of Nov. 2019, there were over 18 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of around $165 billion. 

Some of the competing cryptocurrencies spawned by Bitcoin’s success, known as “altcoins,” include Litecoin, Peercoin, and Namecoin, as well as Ethereum, Cardano, and EOS. Today, the aggregate value of all the cryptocurrencies in existence is around $245 billion—Bitcoin currently represents more than 65% of the total value.

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