So, what does blockchain technology bring to the table that current payment networks don't? For starters, and as noted, it's decentralized. That's a fancy way of saying that there's no central hub where transaction data is stored. Instead, servers and hard drives all over the world hold bits and pieces of these blocks of data. This is done for two purposes. First, it ensures that no one party can gain control over a cryptocurrency and blockchain. Also, it keeps cybercriminals from being able to hold a digital currency "hostage" should they gain access to transaction data.
A prospective miner needs a bitcoin wallet—an encrypted online bank account—to hold what is earned. The problem is, as in most bitcoin scenarios, wallets are unregulated and prone to attacks. Late last year, hackers staged a bitcoin heist in which they stole some $1.2 million worth of the currency from the site Inputs.io. When bitcoins are lost or stolen they are completely gone, just like cash. With no central bank backing your bitcoins, there is no possible way to recoup your loses.
It’s decentralized and brings power back to the people. Launched just a year after the 2008 financial crises, Bitcoin has attracted many people who see the current financial system as unsustainable. This factor has won the hearts of those who view politicians and government with suspicion. It’s no surprise there is a huge community of ideologists actively building, buying, and working in the cryptocurrency world.
Newer cryptocurrencies and blockchain networks are susceptible to 51% attacks. These attacks are extremely difficult to execute due to the computational power required to gain majority control of a blockchain network, but NYU computer science researcher Joseph Bonneau said that might change. Bonneau released a report last year estimating that 51% attacks were likely to increase, as hackers can now simply rent computational power, rather than buying all of the equipment.
“Unlike traditional currencies, which are issued by central banks, Bitcoin has no central monetary authority. Instead it is underpinned by a peer-to-peer computer network made up of its users’ machines, akin to the networks that underpin BitTorrent, a file-sharing system, and Skype, an audio, video and chat service. Bitcoins are mathematically generated as the computers in this network execute difficult number-crunching tasks, a procedure known as Bitcoin “mining”. The mathematics of the Bitcoin system were set up so that it becomes progressively more difficult to “mine” Bitcoins over time, and the total number that can ever be mined is limited to around 21 million. There is therefore no way for a central bank to issue a flood of new Bitcoins and devalue those already in circulation.”
In 2014, prices started at $770 and fell to $314 for the year. In February 2014 the Mt. Gox exchange, the largest bitcoin exchange at the time, said that 850,000 bitcoins had been stolen from its customers, amounting to almost $500 million. Bitcoin's price fell by almost half, from $867 to $439 (a 49% drop). Prices remained low until late 2016.