A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security. A cryptocurrency is difficult to counterfeit because of this security feature. Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized systems based on blockchain technology, a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. A defining feature of a cryptocurrency, and arguably its biggest allure, is its organic nature; it is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.
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 or specifications. Some of these are clones of Bitcoin while others are forks, or new cryptocurrencies that split off from an already existing one.
BREAKING DOWN Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrencies are systems that allow for the secure payments of online transactions that are denominated in terms of a virtual “token,” representing ledger entries internal to the system itself. “Crypto” refers to the fact that various encryption algorithms and cryptographic techniques, such as elliptical curve encryption, public-private key pairs, and hashing functions, are employed.
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 February 2019, there were over 17.53 million bitcoins in circulation with a total market value of around $63 billion (although the market price of bitcoin can fluctuate quite a bit). Bitcoin’s success has spawned a number of competing cryptocurrencies, known as “altcoins” such as Litecoin, Namecoin, and Peercoin, as well as Ethereum, EOS, and CardanoC. Today, there are literally thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence, with an aggregate market value of over $120 billion (Bitcoin currently represents more than 50% of the total value).