Bitcoin

How does Bitcoin work?
This is a question that often causes confusion. Here’s a quick explanation!

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The basics for a new user

As a new user, you can get started with Bitcoin without understanding the technical details. Once you have installed a Bitcoin wallet on your computer or mobile phone, it will generate your first Bitcoin address and you can create more whenever you need one. You can disclose your addresses to your friends so that they can pay you or vice versa. In fact, this is pretty similar to how email works, except that Bitcoin addresses should only be used once.

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Balances – block chain

The block chain is a shared public ledger on which the entire Bitcoin network relies. All confirmed transactions are included in the block chain. This way, Bitcoin wallets can calculate their spendable balance and new transactions can be verified to be spending bitcoins that are actually owned by the spender. The integrity and the chronological order of the block chain are enforced with cryptography.

Transactions – private keys

A transaction is a transfer of value between Bitcoin wallets that gets included in the block chain. Bitcoin wallets keep a secret piece of data called a private key or seed, which is used to sign transactions, providing a mathematical proof that they have come from the owner of the wallet. The signature also prevents the transaction from being altered by anybody once it has been issued. All transactions are broadcast between users and usually begin to be confirmed by the network in the following 10 minutes, through a process called mining.

Processing – mining

Mining is a distributed consensus system that is used to confirm waiting transactions by including them in the block chain. It enforces a chronological order in the block chain, protects the neutrality of the network, and allows different computers to agree on the state of the system. To be confirmed, transactions must be packed in a block that fits very strict cryptographic rules that will be verified by the network. These rules prevent previous blocks from being modified because doing so would invalidate all following blocks. Mining also creates the equivalent of a competitive lottery that prevents any individual from easily adding new blocks consecutively in the block chain. This way, no individuals can control what is included in the block chain or replace parts of the block chain to roll back their own spends.

Going down the rabbit hole

This is only a very short and concise summary of the system. If you want to get into the details, you can read the original paper that describes the system’s design.

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Some things you need to know

If you are about to explore Bitcoin, there are a few things you should know. Bitcoin lets you exchange money in a different way than with usual banks. As such, you should take time to inform yourself before using Bitcoin for any serious transaction. Bitcoin should be treated with the same care as your regular wallet, or even more in some cases!

Securing your wallet

Like in real life, your wallet must be secured. Bitcoin makes it possible to transfer value anywhere in a very easy way and it allows you to be in control of your money. Such great features also come with great security concerns. At the same time, Bitcoin can provide very high levels of security if used correctly. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your money.

Bitcoin price is volatile

The price of a bitcoin can unpredictably increase or decrease over a short period of time due to its young economy, novel nature, and sometimes illiquid markets. Consequently, keeping your savings with Bitcoin is not recommended at this point. Bitcoin should be seen like a high risk asset, and you should never store money that you cannot afford to lose with Bitcoin. If you receive payments with Bitcoin, many service providers can convert them to your local currency.

Bitcoin payments are irreversible

Any transaction issued with Bitcoin cannot be reversed, they can only be refunded by the person receiving the funds. That means you should take care to do business with people and organizations you know and trust, or who have an established reputation. For their part, businesses need to keep control of the payment requests they are displaying to their customers. Bitcoin can detect typos and usually won’t let you send money to an invalid address by mistake. Additional services might exist in the future to provide more choice and protection for the consumer.

Bitcoin is not anonymous

Some effort is required to protect your privacy with Bitcoin. All Bitcoin transactions are stored publicly and permanently on the network, which means anyone can see the balance and transactions of any Bitcoin address. However, the identity of the user behind an address remains unknown until information is revealed during a purchase or in other circumstances. This is one reason why Bitcoin addresses should only be used once. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your privacy. Read more about protecting your privacy.

Unconfirmed transactions aren’t secure

A Bitcoin transaction is usually deployed within a few seconds and begins to be confirmed in the following 10 minutes. During that time, a transaction can be considered authentic but still reversible. Dishonest users could try to cheat, which means there is a risk when accepting unconfirmated transactions. For large amounts like 1000 US$, it makes sense to wait for 6 confirmations or more. Each confirmation exponentially decreases the risk of a reversed transaction.

Bitcoin is still experimental

Bitcoin is an experimental new currency that is in active development. Although it becomes less experimental as usage grows, you should keep in mind that Bitcoin is a new invention that is exploring ideas that have never been attempted before. As such, its future cannot be predicted by anyone.

Government taxes and regulations

Bitcoin is not an official currency. That said, most jurisdictions still require you to pay income, sales, payroll, and capital gains taxes on anything that has value, including bitcoins. It is your responsibility to ensure that you adhere to tax and other legal or regulatory mandates issued by your government and/or local municipalities.

Securing Your Wallet

Like in real life, your wallet must be secured. Bitcoin makes it possible to transfer value anywhere in a very easy way and it allows you to be in control of your money. Such great features also come with great security concerns. At the same time, Bitcoin can provide very high levels of security if used correctly. Always remember that it is your responsibility to adopt good practices in order to protect your money.

Be careful with online services

You should be wary of any service designed to store your money online. Many exchanges and online wallets suffered from security breaches in the past and such services generally still do not provide enough insurance and security to be used to store money like a bank. Accordingly, you might want to use other types of Bitcoin wallets. Otherwise, you should choose such services very carefully. Additionally, using two-factor authentication is recommended.

Small amounts for everyday uses

A Bitcoin wallet is like a wallet with cash. If you wouldn’t keep a thousand dollars in your pocket, you might want to have the same consideration for your Bitcoin wallet. In general, it is a good practice to keep only small amounts of bitcoins on your computer, mobile, or server for everyday uses and to keep the remaining part of your funds in a safer environment.

Backup your wallet

Stored in a safe place, a backup of your wallet can protect you against computer failures and many human mistakes. It can also allow you to recover your wallet after your mobile or computer was stolen if you keep your wallet encrypted.

Backup your entire wallet

Some wallets use many hidden private keys internally. If you only have a backup of the private keys for your visible Bitcoin addresses, you might not be able to recover a great part of your funds with your backup.

Encrypt online backups

Any backup that is stored online is highly vulnerable to theft. Even a computer that is connected to the Internet is vulnerable to malicious software. As such, encrypting any backup that is exposed to the network is a good security practice.

Use many secure locations

Single points of failure are bad for security. If your backup is not dependent of a single location, it is less likely that any bad event will prevent you to recover your wallet. You might also want to consider using different medias like USB keys, papers and CDs.

Make regular backups

You need to backup your wallet on a regular basis to make sure that all recent Bitcoin change addresses and all new Bitcoin addresses you created are included in your backup. However, all applications will be soon using wallets that only need to be backed up once.

Encrypt your wallet

Encrypting your wallet or your smartphone allows you to set a password for anyone trying to withdraw any funds. This helps protect against thieves, though it cannot protect against keylogging hardware or software.

Never forget your password

You should make sure you never forget the password or your funds will be permanently lost. Unlike your bank, there are very limited password recovery options with Bitcoin. In fact, you should be able to remember your password even after many years without using it. In doubt, you might want to keep a paper copy of your password in a safe place like a vault.

Use a strong password

Any password that contains only letters or recognizable words can be considered very weak and easy to break. A strong password must contain letters, numbers, punctuation marks and must be at least 16 characters long. The most secure passwords are those generated by programs designed specifically for that purpose. Strong passwords are usually harder to remember, so you should take care in memorizing it.

Offline wallet for savings

An offline wallet, also known as cold storage, provides the highest level of security for savings. It involves storing a wallet in a secured place that is not connected to the network. When done properly, it can offer a very good protection against computer vulnerabilities. Using an offline wallet in conjunction with backups and encryption is also a good practice. Here is an overview of some approaches.

Offline transaction signing

This approach involves having two computers sharing some parts of the same wallet. The first one must be disconnected from any network. It is the only one that holds the entire wallet and is able to sign transactions. The second computer is connected to the network and only has a watching wallet that can only create unsigned transactions. This way, you can securely issue new transactions with the following steps.

  1. Create a new transaction on the online computer and save it on an USB key.
  2. Sign the transaction with the offline computer.
  3. Send the signed transaction with the online computer.

Because the computer that is connected to the network cannot sign transactions, it cannot be used to withdraw any funds if it is compromised. Armory can be used to do offline transaction signature.

Hardware wallets

Hardware wallets are the best balance between very high security and ease of use. These are little devices that are designed from the root to be a wallet and nothing else. No software can be installed on them, making them very secure against computer vulnerabilities and online thieves. Because they can allow backup, you can recover your funds if you lose the device.

Keep your software up to date

Using the latest version of your Bitcoin software allows you to receive important stability and security fixes. Updates can prevent problems of various severity, include new useful features and help keep your wallet safe. Installing updates for all other software on your computer or mobile is also important to keep your wallet environment safer.

Multi-signature to protect against theft

Bitcoin includes a multi-signature feature that allows a transaction to require multiple independent approvals to be spent. This can be used by an organization to give its members access to its treasury while only allowing a withdrawal if 3 of 5 members sign the transaction. Some web wallets also provide multi-signature wallets, allowing the user to keep control over their money while preventing a thief from stealing funds by compromising a single device or server.

Think about your testament

Your bitcoins can be lost forever if you don’t have a backup plan for your peers and family. If the location of your wallets or your passwords are not known by anyone when you are gone, there is no hope that your funds will ever be recovered. Taking a bit of time on these matters can make a huge difference.

Now that you are ready to buy your first Cryptocurrency just click on the image below to get started.

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