Now to get the blockchain explained in simple words, it requires no central server to store blockchain data, which means it is not centralized. This is what makes the blockchain so powerful. Instead of the server being stored in one place, it is stored on the blockchain and is powered by many different computers/nodes. This means there is no third party to trust and pay a fee to.
The incredibly low-cost days of mining bitcoin, which only lasted a couple years, were days where one bitcoin was so cheap that it financially made sense to mine them at a very low cost instead of buying them. For context, the first exchange rate given to bitcoin was in October 2009, 10 months after the first block was mined. The rate, established by the now-defunct New Liberty Standard exchange, gave the value of a bitcoin at US $1=1309.03 BTC. It was calculated using an equation that includes the cost of electricity to run a computer that generated bitcoins. This was the period of time where bitcoins, which were looked at as little more than a newly created internet novelty, could be mined in large quantities using an average computer.
Bitcoin has been criticized for the amount of electricity consumed by mining. As of 2015, The Economist estimated that even if all miners used modern facilities, the combined electricity consumption would be 166.7 megawatts (1.46 terawatt-hours per year). At the end of 2017, the global bitcoin mining activity was estimated to consume between one and four gigawatts of electricity. Politico noted that the even high-end estimates of bitcoin's total consumption levels amount to only about 6% of the total power consumed by the global banking sector, and even if bitcoin's consumption levels increased 100 fold from today's levels, bitcoin's consumption would still only amount to about 2% of global power consumption.
An online bitcoin wallet is a wallet hosted in the cloud. You access the wallet through a website, from any computer, where you can deposit and withdraw funds from your bitcoin wallet. The advantage is that you do not need to install any software on your computer or download the entire blockchain, which is currently more than 30 gigabyte. You can also access your wallet from any computer in the world. The disadvantage is that you are dependent on a third party service to store your bitcoins, which can be unstable, offline or even shut down.
In 2014, researchers at the University of Kentucky found "robust evidence that computer programming enthusiasts and illegal activity drive interest in bitcoin, and find limited or no support for political and investment motives". Australian researchers have estimated that 25% of all bitcoin users and 44% of all bitcoin transactions are associated with illegal activity as of April 2017. There were an estimated 24 million bitcoin users primarily using bitcoin for illegal activity. They held $8 billion worth of bitcoin, and made 36 million transactions valued at $72 billion. A group of researches analyzed bitcoin transactions in 2016 and came to a conclusion that "some recent concerns regarding the use of bitcoin for illegal transactions at the present time might be overstated".
While there are significant upsides to the blockchain, there are also significant challenges to its adoption. The roadblocks to the application of blockchain technology today are not just technical. The real challenges are political and regulatory, for the most part, to say nothing of the thousands of hours (read: money) of custom software design and back-end programming required to integrate blockchain to current business networks. Here are some of the challenges standing in the way of widespread blockchain adoption.
Here’s why that’s important to security. Let’s say a hacker attempts to edit your transaction from Amazon so that you actually have to pay for your purchase twice. As soon as they edit the dollar amount of your transaction, the block’s hash will change. The next block in the chain will still contain the old hash, and the hacker would need to update that block in order to cover their tracks. However, doing so would change that block’s hash. And the next, and so on.
What miners are doing with those huge computers and dozens of cooling fans is guessing at the target hash. Miners make these guesses by randomly generating as many "nonces" as possible, as fast as possible. A nonce is short for "number only used once," and the nonce is the key to generating these 64-bit hexadecimal numbers I keep talking about. In Bitcoin mining, a nonce is 32 bits in size--much smaller than the hash, which is 256 bits. The first miner whose nonce generates a hash that is less than or equal to the target hash is awarded credit for completing that block, and is awarded the spoils of 12.5 BTC.
Although transactions are publicly recorded on the blockchain, user data is not — or, at least not in full. In order to conduct transactions on the Bitcoin network, participants must run a program called a “wallet.” Each wallet consists of two unique and distinct cryptographic keys: a public key and a private key. The public key is the location where transactions are deposited to and withdrawn from. This is also the key that appears on the blockchain ledger as the user’s digital signature.
In March 2013 the blockchain temporarily split into two independent chains with different rules. The two blockchains operated simultaneously for six hours, each with its own version of the transaction history. Normal operation was restored when the majority of the network downgraded to version 0.7 of the bitcoin software. The Mt. Gox exchange briefly halted bitcoin deposits and the price dropped by 23% to $37 before recovering to previous level of approximately $48 in the following hours. The US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) established regulatory guidelines for "decentralized virtual currencies" such as bitcoin, classifying American bitcoin miners who sell their generated bitcoins as Money Service Businesses (MSBs), that are subject to registration or other legal obligations. In April, exchanges BitInstant and Mt. Gox experienced processing delays due to insufficient capacity resulting in the bitcoin price dropping from $266 to $76 before returning to $160 within six hours. The bitcoin price rose to $259 on 10 April, but then crashed by 83% to $45 over the next three days. On 15 May 2013, US authorities seized accounts associated with Mt. Gox after discovering it had not registered as a money transmitter with FinCEN in the US. On 23 June 2013, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) listed 11.02 bitcoins as a seized asset in a United States Department of Justice seizure notice pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 881. This marked the first time a government agency had seized bitcoin. The FBI seized about 26,000 bitcoins in October 2013 from the dark web website Silk Road during the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht. Bitcoin's price rose to $755 on 19 November and crashed by 50% to $378 the same day. On 30 November 2013 the price reached $1,163 before starting a long-term crash, declining by 87% to $152 in January 2015. On 5 December 2013, the People's Bank of China prohibited Chinese financial institutions from using bitcoins. After the announcement, the value of bitcoins dropped, and Baidu no longer accepted bitcoins for certain services. Buying real-world goods with any virtual currency had been illegal in China since at least 2009.