Bitcoin is a digital asset designed to work in peer-to-peer transactions as a currency.[4][135] Bitcoins have three qualities useful in a currency, according to The Economist in January 2015: they are "hard to earn, limited in supply and easy to verify."[136] Per some researchers, as of 2015, bitcoin functions more as a payment system than as a currency.[32]
Transactions are defined using a Forth-like scripting language.[7]:ch. 5 Transactions consist of one or more inputs and one or more outputs. When a user sends bitcoins, the user designates each address and the amount of bitcoin being sent to that address in an output. To prevent double spending, each input must refer to a previous unspent output in the blockchain.[77] The use of multiple inputs corresponds to the use of multiple coins in a cash transaction. Since transactions can have multiple outputs, users can send bitcoins to multiple recipients in one transaction. As in a cash transaction, the sum of inputs (coins used to pay) can exceed the intended sum of payments. In such a case, an additional output is used, returning the change back to the payer.[77] Any input satoshis not accounted for in the transaction outputs become the transaction fee.[77]
Physical wallets store the credentials necessary to spend bitcoins offline and can be as simple as a paper printout of the private key;[7]:ch. 10 a paper wallet. A paper wallet is created with a keypair generated on a computer with no internet connection; the private key is written or printed onto the paper[g] and then erased from the computer. The paper wallet can then be stored in a safe physical location for later retrieval. Bitcoins stored using a paper wallet are said to be in cold storage.[99]:39 In a 2014 interview, QuadrigaCX founder Gerald Cotten explained that the company stored customer funds on paper wallets in safe deposit boxes: "So we just send money to them, we don’t need to go back to the bank every time we want to put money into it. We just send money from our Bitcoin app directly to those paper wallets, and keep it safe that way."[100]

Network nodes can validate transactions, add them to their copy of the ledger, and then broadcast these ledger additions to other nodes. To achieve independent verification of the chain of ownership each network node stores its own copy of the blockchain.[76] About every 10 minutes, a new group of accepted transactions, called a block, is created, added to the blockchain, and quickly published to all nodes, without requiring central oversight. This allows bitcoin software to determine when a particular bitcoin was spent, which is needed to prevent double-spending. A conventional ledger records the transfers of actual bills or promissory notes that exist apart from it, but the blockchain is the only place that bitcoins can be said to exist in the form of unspent outputs of transactions.[7]:ch. 5


Properties of cryptocurrencies gave them popularity in applications such as a safe haven in banking crises and means of payment, which also led to the cryptocurrency use in controversial settings in the form of online black markets, such as Silk Road.[67] The original Silk Road was shut down in October 2013 and there have been two more versions in use since then. In the year following the initial shutdown of Silk Road, the number of prominent dark markets increased from four to twelve, while the amount of drug listings increased from 18,000 to 32,000.[67]
To understand the revolutionary impact of cryptocurrencies you need to consider both properties. Bitcoin as a permissionless, irreversible and pseudonymous means of payment is an attack on the control of banks and governments over the monetary transactions of their citizens. You can‘t hinder someone to use Bitcoin, you can‘t prohibit someone to accept a payment, you can‘t undo a transaction.

On 25 March 2014, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that bitcoin will be treated as property for tax purposes. This means bitcoin will be subject to capital gains tax.[64] In a paper published by researchers from Oxford and Warwick, it was shown that bitcoin has some characteristics more like the precious metals market than traditional currencies, hence in agreement with the IRS decision even if based on different reasons.[65]
Transactions are defined using a Forth-like scripting language.[7]:ch. 5 Transactions consist of one or more inputs and one or more outputs. When a user sends bitcoins, the user designates each address and the amount of bitcoin being sent to that address in an output. To prevent double spending, each input must refer to a previous unspent output in the blockchain.[77] The use of multiple inputs corresponds to the use of multiple coins in a cash transaction. Since transactions can have multiple outputs, users can send bitcoins to multiple recipients in one transaction. As in a cash transaction, the sum of inputs (coins used to pay) can exceed the intended sum of payments. In such a case, an additional output is used, returning the change back to the payer.[77] Any input satoshis not accounted for in the transaction outputs become the transaction fee.[77]
Transactions that occur through the use and exchange of these altcoins are independent from formal banking systems, and therefore can make tax evasion simpler for individuals. Since charting taxable income is based upon what a recipient reports to the revenue service, it becomes extremely difficult to account for transactions made using existing cryptocurrencies, a mode of exchange that is complex and difficult to track.[67]
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