What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009. It offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms and is operated by a decentralized authority, unlike government-issued currencies. Today’s market cap for all bitcoin in circulation exceeds $60 billion.

There are no physical bitcoins, only balances kept on a public ledger in the cloud that — along with all Bitcoin transactions — is verified by a massive amount of computing power. Bitcoins are not issued or backed by any banks or governments, nor are individual bitcoins valuable as a commodity. Despite its not being legal tender, Bitcoin charts high on popularity, and has triggered the launch of other virtual currencies collectively referred to as Altcoins.

Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency: Balances are kept using public and private “keys,” which are long strings of numbers and letters linked through the mathematical encryption algorithm that was used to create them. The public key (comparable to a bank account number) serves as the address which is published to the world and to which others may send bitcoins. The private key (comparable to an ATM PIN) is meant to be a guarded secret, and only used to authorize Bitcoin transmissions.

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