What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. It is a decentralized digital currency that is based on cryptography. As such, it can operate without the need of a central authority like a central bank or a company. Bitcoin is unlike government-issued or fiat currencies such as US Dollars or Euro in which they are controlled by the country’s central bank. The decentralized nature allows it to operate on a peer-to-peer network whereby users are able to send funds to each other without going through intermediaries.
Who created Bitcoin?
Bitcoin was created by an unknown individual or group that goes by the name Satoshi Nakamoto with the idea of an electronic peer-to-peer cash system as it is written in a whitepaper. Until today, the true identity of Satoshi Nakamoto has not been verified though there has been speculation and rumor as to who Satoshi might be.
When was Bitcoin launched?
Bitcoin was launched in January 2009 with the first genesis block mined on 9th January 2009.
How does Bitcoin work?
While the general public perceives Bitcoin as some kind of physical looking coin, it is actually far from that. Under the hood, Bitcoin is actually a distributed accounting ledger that is stored in a form of a chain of blocks, hence the name blockchain.
In a centralized system like the ones operated by a commercial bank, given a situation where Alice wants to transact with Bob, the bank is the only entity that holds the ledger that describes how much balance Alice and Bob has. As the bank maintains the ledger, they will do the verification as to whether Alice has enough funds to send to Bob. Finally when the transaction successfully takes place, the Bank will deduct Alice’s account and credit Bob’s account with the latest amount.
Bitcoin conversely works in a decentralized manner. Since there is no central figure like a bank to verify the transactions and maintain the ledger, a copy of the ledger is distributed across Bitcoin nodes. A node is a piece of software that anybody can download and run to participate in the network. With that, everybody has a copy of how much balance Alice and Bob has, and there will be no dispute of fund balance.
Now, if Alice were to transact with Bob using Bitcoin. Alice will have to broadcast her transaction to the network that she intends to send $1 to Bob in equivalent amount of Bitcoin. How would the system be able to determine that she has enough Bitcoin to execute the transaction and also to ensure she does not double spend that same amount.
Here is where mining takes place. A Bitcoin miner will use his or her computer rigs to validate Alice’s transaction to be added into the ledger. In order to stop a miner from adding any arbitrary transactions, they will need to solve a complex puzzle. Only if the miner is able to solve the puzzle (called the Proof of Work), which happens at random, then he or she is able to add the transactions into the ledger and the record is final.
Since running these computer rigs cost money due to capital expenditure for buying the rigs and the cost of electricity, miners are rewarded with new supply of Bitcoins that is part of its monetary system and some amount of fees paid by the person who wishes to transact (in this case it is Alice).
This makes the Bitcoin ledger resilient against fraud in a trustless manner. While it is resilient, there are still some risks associated with the system such as the 51% attack where by miners control more than 51% of the total computation power and also there can be security risks outside of the control of the Bitcoin protocol.
How to keep your Bitcoin safe?
If you are going to be keeping some Bitcoin, is it important to learn how to keep them safe from theft.
When working with transacting Bitcoin, you would typically be doing it on your personal computer. Since your personal computer is connected to the internet, it has the potential to be infected by malware or spywares which could compromise your Bitcoin.
One of the ways of mitigating that risk is to use hardware wallets such as Trezor and Ledger. Hardware wallets are essentially external devices that look like USB sticks. A hardware wallet secures your private key that holds your Bitcoin into an external device outside of your personal computer. When you intend to transact, you would connect the hardware wallet into your personal computer, and all the key signing in order to transact would be done in the hardware itself outside of your computer.
However, if you physically lose your hardware wallet without a key phrase backup, there is no other way of recovering your Bitcoin ever. As such when setting up your hardware wallet, always remember to keep a copy of the key phrase and put it somewhere safe from fire or flood.