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Cryptocurrency 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Digital Money

Cryptocurrency is a form of digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for secure financial transactions, controlling the creation of new units, and for verifying the transfer of assets. Unlike traditional fiat currencies issued by governments, cryptocurrencies operate independently of any central authority, such as a bank or government.

Cryptocurrency was mentioned in the 1980s but took shape only in the early 1990s with the development of cryptographic protocols and software. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that we got a real world working example of a cryptocurrency when Satoshi Nakamoto published a ground-breaking paper introducing a trustless digital currency system, launching the cryptocurrency revolution.

Bitcoin, created by Nakamoto in 2009, became popular for its borderless transactions. However, its rapid value rise left some unsure about how to manage their Bitcoin holdings. While it was the only cryptocurrency in the market initially, new cryptocurrencies emerged with fluctuating prices. After a crash in January 2018, the crypto market has shown consistent growth. Despite scams targeting crypto investors during the 2017 boom, the market has continued to expand.

Cryptocurrency works on the principle of decentralization, which means that it is not controlled by any central authority. This is the key driving principle behind its creation and what makes it popular. Instead of a centralized authority, it relies on a distributed network of computers, known as nodes, that work together to maintain the integrity and security of the system. To enable this decentralization, blockchain technology is used. A blockchain is a digital ledger that records all transactions across a network of computers. These transactions are recorded in chronological order in the form of blocks, which themselves are immutable and cannot be tampered with.

In the simplest terms, mining is how new cryptocurrencies are made. But before getting into it a little more details, let’s talk about the consensus mechanism. A consensus mechanism is a method used to achieve agreement, trust, and security across a decentralized computer network.

These are usually programs that allow a network of nodes to agree on the state of a blockchain. Proof of Work (PoW) and Proof of Stake (PoS) consensus mechanisms are those that are often associated with many of the main cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin makes use of a PoW mechanism, while Ethereum makes use of a PoS mechanism.

  1. Proof of Work:

    In the proof of work mechanism, miners solve complex mathematical puzzles to validate and add new blocks to the blockchain. PoW is a highly competitive consensus mechanism as well. The first miner to find the solution broadcasts it to the network, and other participants verify it. This entire process requires high computational resources and energy consumption, which is also what makes is secure changing a block’s data would require redoing the computational work for all subsequent blocks, making it economically infeasible to manipulate the blockchain’s history. Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies make use of this method.

  2. Proof of Stake:

    Proof of stake is another consensus mechanism and works differently compared to PoW. In this mechanism, the probability of creating or validating a new block in a blockchain is determined by the participant’s stake or ownership of the cryptocurrency. The participant, or the validator, has to stake some of their coins. The crypto-economic security is derived from a set of rewards and penalties applied to the capital locked by the validators. PoS aims to reduce the computational energy consumption associated with mining in PoW systems. It offers energy efficiency and a more environmentally friendly approach to securing the network. Ethereum is the most well-known cryptocurrency that makes use of this method.

Like with traditional currencies, cryptocurrencies are only valuable if they are adopted. While many companies across the world, including the likes of Microsoft, Starbucks, and Burger King accept cryptocurrencies as payment, it is still something that is not widely accepted.

The higher conversion rates, as well as the complexity of entry is another major hurdle that prevents people from owning cryptocurrencies. Moreover, many scam currencies that were made to capitalize on the sudden popularity growth of cryptocurrencies have also dampened the enthusiasm of people around the world when it comes to this new form of money.

However, there has been a rising interest in decentralization in recent years. The concept of Web3 requires cryptocurrencies and other similar technology as one of its pillars. More and more mainstream retailers have also begun adopting major cryptocurrencies.

Cryptocurrency represents a transformative force in the world of finance and technology. It has emerged as a decentralized form of digital currency, driven by blockchain technology and innovative consensus mechanisms.

While challenges such as regulatory frameworks, security concerns, and public perception persist, cryptocurrencies continue to gain adoption and mainstream acceptance. The future holds promise for the further integration of cryptocurrencies into various sectors.

WOW Summit Hong Kong. 26-27 March