A cryptocurrency, crypto-currency, or crypto is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange wherein individual coin ownership records are stored in a ledger existing in a form of a computerized database using strong cryptography to secure transaction records, to control the creation of additional coins, and to verify the transfer of coin ownership. Cryptocurrency does not exist in physical form (like paper money) and is typically not issued by a central authority. Cryptocurrencies typically use decentralized control as opposed to a central bank digital currency (CBDC). When a cryptocurrency is minted or created prior to issuance or issued by a single issuer, it is generally considered centralized. When implemented with decentralized control, each cryptocurrency works through distributed ledger technology, typically a blockchain, that serves as a public financial transaction database.
Bitcoin, first released as open-source software in 2009, is the first decentralized cryptocurrency. Since the release of bitcoin, many other cryptocurrencies have been created.
- A cryptocurrency, broadly defined, is currency that takes the form of tokens or “coins” and exists on a distributed and decentralized ledger.
- Beyond that, the field of cryptocurrencies has expanded dramatically since Bitcoin was launched over a decade ago, and the next great digital token may be released tomorrow.
- Bitcoin continues to lead the pack of cryptocurrencies in terms of market capitalization, user base, and popularity.
- Other virtual currencies such as Ethereum are being used to create decentralized financial systems for those without access to traditional financial products.
- Some altcoins are being endorsed as they have newer features than Bitcoin, such as the ability to handle more transactions per second or use different consensus algorithms like proof-of-stake.
What Is Cryptocurrency?
Cryptocurrency is a form of payment that can be exchanged online for goods and services. Many companies have issued their own currencies, often called tokens, and these can be traded specifically for the good or service that the company provides. Think of them as you would arcade tokens or casino chips. You’ll need to exchange real currency for the cryptocurrency to access the good or service.
Cryptocurrencies work using a technology called blockchain. Blockchain is a decentralized technology spread across many computers that manages and records transactions. Part of the appeal of this technology is its security.
How many cryptocurrencies are there? What are they worth?
More than 10,000 different cryptocurrencies are traded publicly, according to CoinMarketCap.com, a market research website. And cryptocurrencies continue to proliferate, raising money through initial coin offerings, or ICOs. The total value of all cryptocurrencies on July 9, 2021, was more than $1.4 trillion — down from April high of $2.2 trillion, according to CoinMarketCap. The total value of all bitcoins, the most popular digital currency, was pegged at about $630 billion — down from April high of $1.2 trillion.
Why are cryptocurrencies so popular?
Cryptocurrencies appeal to their supporters for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most popular:
- Supporters see cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin as the currency of the future and are racing to buy them now, presumably before they become more valuable
- Some supporters like the fact that cryptocurrency removes central banks from managing the money supply, since over time these banks tend to reduce the value of money via inflation
- Other supporters like the technology behind cryptocurrencies, the blockchain, because it’s a decentralized processing and recording system and can be more secure than traditional payment systems
- Some speculators like cryptocurrencies because they’re going up in value and have no interest in the currencies’ long-term acceptance as a way to move money