Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?
While we may not know who he (or she) was, we know what he did. He was the inventor of the bitcoin protocol, publishing a paper via the Cryptography Mailing List in November 2008.
He then released the first version of the bitcoin software client in 2009, and participated with others on the project via mailing lists, until he finally began to fade from the community toward the end of 2010.
He worked with people on the open-source team, but took care never to reveal anything personal about himself, and the last anyone heard from him was in the spring of 2011, when he said that he had “moved on to other things”.
But he was Japanese, right?
Best not to judge a book by itsin fact, maybe we should.
“Satoshi” means “clear thinking, quick witted; wise”. “Naka” can mean “medium, inside, or relationship”. “Moto” can mean “origin”, or “foundation”.
Those things would all apply to the person who founded a movement by designing a clever algorithm. The problem, of course, is that each word has multiple possible meanings.
We can’t know for sure whether he was Japanese or not. In fact, it’s rather presumptuous to assume that he was actually a ‘he’.
We’re just using that as a figure of speech, but allowing for the fact that this could have been a pseudonym, ‘he’ could have been a ‘she’, or even a ‘they’.
Does anyone know who Nakamoto was?
No, but the detective techniques that people use when guessing are sometimes even more intriguing than the answer. The New Yorker’s Joshua Davis believed that Satoshi Nakamoto was Michael Clear, a graduate cryptography student at Dublin’s Trinity College.
He arrived at this conclusion by analyzing 80,000 words of Nakamoto’s online writings, and searching for linguistic clues. He also suspected Finnish economic sociologist and former games developer Vili Lehdonvirta.
Both have denied being bitcoin’s inventor. Michael Clear publicly denied being Satoshi at the 2013 Web Summit.
Adam Penenberg at FastCompany disputed that claim, arguing instead that Nakamoto may actually have been three people: Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry. He figured this out by typing unique phrases from Nakamoto’s bitcoin paper into Google, to see if they were used anywhere else.
One of them, “computationally impractical to reverse,” turned up in a patent application made by these three for updating and distributing encryption keys. Thedomain name originally used by Satoshi to publish the paper had been registered three days after the patent application was filed.
It was registered in Finland, and one of the patent authors had traveled there six months before the domain was registered. All of them deny it. Michael Clear also publicly denied being Satoshi at the 2013 Web Summit.
In any case, whenwas registered on August 18th 2008, the registrant actually used a Japanese anonymous registration service, and hosted it using a Japanese ISP. The registration for the site was only transferred to Finland on May 18th 2011, which weakens the Finland theory somewhat.
Others think that it was Martii Malmi, a developer living in Finland who has been involved with bitcoin since the beginning, and developed its user interface.
A finger has also been pointed at Jed McCaleb, a lover of Japanese culture and resident of Japan, who created troubled bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox and co-founded decentralized payment systems Ripple and later Stellar.
Another theory suggests that computer scientists Donal O’Mahony and Michael Peirceare Satoshi, based on a paper that they authored concerning digital payments, along with Hitesh Tewari, based on a book that they published together. O’Mahony and Tewari also studied at Trinity College, where Michael Clear was a student.
Israeli scholars Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir of the Weizmann Institute retracted allegations made in a paper suggesting a link between Satoshi and Silk Road, the black market web site that was taken down by the FBI in October 2013. They had suggested a link between an address allegedly owned by Satoshi, and the site. Security researcher Dustin D. Trammell owned the address, and disputed claims that he was Satoshi.
In May 2013, Internet pioneer Ted Nelson threw another hat into the ring: Japanese mathematician Professor Shinichi Mochizuki, although he admits that the evidence is circumstantial at best.
In February 2014, Newsweek’s Leah McGrath Goodman claimed to have tracked down the real Satoshi Nakamoto. Dorian S Nakamoto has since denied he knows anything about bitcoin, eventually hiring a lawyer and releasing an official statement to that effect.
Hal Finney, Michael Weber, Wei Dai and several other developers were among those who are periodically named in media reports and online discussions as potential Satoshis. A group of forensic linguistics experts from Aston University believe the real creator of bitcoin is Nick Szabo, based upon analysis of the Bitcoin White Paper.
Dominic Frisby, a comedian and a writer, also suggests that BitGold creator Szabo was the most likely candidate to be Satoshi in his book, “Bitcoin: The Future of Money”. His detailed analysis involved the linguistics of Satoshi’s writing, judging the level of technical skill in C++ and even Satoshi’s likely birthday.
For the most part, all of these potential Satoshi’s have insisted they are not Nakamoto. Michael Weber has not yet responded to Business Insider’s article.
So what do we know about him?
One thing we know, based on interviews with people that were involved with him at an early stage in the development of bitcoin, is that he thought the system out very thoroughly.
His coding wasn’t conventional, according to core developer Jeff Garzik, in that he didn’t apply the same rigorous testing that you would expect from a classic software engineer.
How rich is he?
An analysis by Sergio Lerner, an authority on bitcoin and cryptography, suggests that Satoshi mined many of the early blocks in the bitcoin network, and that he had built up a fortune of around 1 million unspent bitcoins. That hoard would be worth $1bn at November 2013’s exchange rate of $1,000.
What is he doing now?
No one knows what Satoshi is up to, but one of the last emails he sent to a software developer, dated April 23 2011, said “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone.”
Did he work for the government?
There are rumors, of course. People have interpreted his name as meaning “central intelligence”, but people will see whatever they want to see. Such is the nature of conspiracy theories.
The obvious question would be why one of the three-letter agencies would be interested in creating a cryptocurrency that would subsequently be used as an anonymous trading mechanism, causing senators and the FBI alike to wring their hands about potential terrorism and other criminal endeavours. No doubt conspiracy theorists will have their views on that, too.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Core developer Jeff Garzik puts it succinctly. “Satoshi published an open-source system for the purpose that you didn’t have to know who he was, and trust who he was, or care about his knowledge,” he points out. Open-source code makes it impossible to hide secrets. “The source code spoke for itself.”
Moreover, it was smart to use a pseudonym, he argues, because it forced people to focus on the technology itself rather than on the personality behind it. At the end of the day, bitcoin is now far bigger than Satoshi Nakamoto.
Having said that, if the real Satoshi Nakamoto is out there – get in touch!
Sakamoto image via (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Bitcoin transactions are sent from and to electronic bitcoin wallets, and are digitally signed for security. Everyone on the network knows about a transaction, and the history of a transaction can be traced back to the point where the bitcoins were produced.
Holding onto bitcoins is great if you’re a speculator waiting for the price to go up, but the whole point of this currency is to spend it, right? So, when spending bitcoins, how do transactions work?
There are no bitcoins, only records of bitcoin transactions
Here’s the funny thing about bitcoins: they don’t exist anywhere, even on a hard drive. We talk about someone having bitcoins, but when you look at a particular bitcoin address, there are no digital bitcoins held in it, in the same way that you might hold pounds or dollars in a bank account. You cannot point to a physical object, or even a digital file, and say “this is a bitcoin”.
Instead, there are only records of transactions between different addresses, with balances that increase and decrease. Every transaction that ever took place is stored in a vast public ledger called the block chain. If you want to work out the balance of any bitcoin address, the information isn’t held at that address; you must reconstruct it by looking at the blockchain.
What does a transaction look like?
If Alice sends some bitcoins to Bob, that transaction will have three pieces of information:
- An input. This is a record of which bitcoin address was used to send the bitcoins to Alice in the first place (she received them from her friend, Eve).
- An amount. This is the amount of bitcoins that Alice is sending to Bob.
- An output. This is Bob’s bitcoin address.
How is it sent?
To send bitcoins, you need two things: a bitcoin address and a private key. A bitcoin address is generated randomly, and is simply a sequence of letters and numbers. The private key is another sequence of letters and numbers, but unlike your bitcoin address, this is kept secret.
Think of your bitcoin address as a safe deposit box with a glass front. Everyone knows what is in it, but only the private key can unlock it to take things out or put things in.
When Alice wants to send bitcoins to Bob, she uses her private key to sign a message with the input (the source transaction(s) of the coins), amount, and output (Bob’s address).
She then sends them from her bitcoin wallet out to the wider bitcoin network. From there, bitcoin miners verify the transaction, putting it into a transaction block and eventually solving it.
Why must I sometimes wait for my transaction to clear?
Because your transaction must be verified by miners, you are sometimes forced to wait until they have finished mining. The bitcoin protocol is set so that each block takes roughly 10 minutes to mine.
Some merchants may make you wait until this block has been confirmed, meaning that you may have to make a cup of coffee and come back again in a short while before you can download the digital goods or take advantage of the paid service.
On the other hand, some merchants won’t make you wait until the transaction has been confirmed. They effectively take a chance on you, assuming that you won’t try and spend the same bitcoins somewhere else before the transaction confirms. This often happens for low value transactions, where the risk of fraud isn’t as great.
What if the input and output amounts don’t match?
Because bitcoins exist only as records of transactions, you can end up with many different transactions tied to a particular bitcoin address. Perhaps Jane sent Alice two bitcoins, Philip sent her three bitcoins and Eve sent her a single bitcoin, all as separate transactions at separate times.
These are not automatically combined in Alice’s wallet to make one file containing six bitcoins. They simply sit there as different transaction records.
When Alice wants to send bitcoins to Bob, her wallet will try to use transaction records with different amounts that add up to the number of bitcoins that she wants to send Bob.
The chances are that when Alice wants to send bitcoins to Bob, she won’t have exactly the right number of bitcoins from other transactions. Perhaps she only wants to send 1.5 BTC to Bob.
None of the transactions that she has in her bitcoin address are for that amount, and none of them add up to that amount when combined. Alice can’t just split a transaction into smaller amounts. You can only spend the whole output of a transaction, rather than breaking it up into smaller amounts.
Instead, she will have to send one of the incoming transactions, and then the rest of the bitcoins will be returned to her as change.
Alice sends the two bitcoins that she got from Jane to Bob. Jane is the input, and Bob is the output. But the amount is only 1.5 BTC, because that is all she wants to send. So, her wallet automatically creates two outputs for her transaction: 1.5 BTC to Bob, and 0.5 BTC to a new address, which it created for Alice to hold her change from Bob.
Are there any transaction fees?
Sometimes, but not all the time.
Transaction fees are calculated using various factors. Some wallets let you set transaction fees manually. Any portion of a transaction that isn’t picked up by the recipient or returned as change is considered a fee. This then goes to the miner lucky enough to solve the transaction block as an extra reward.
Right now, many miners process transactions for no fees. As the block reward for bitcoins decreases, this will be less likely.
One of the frustrating things about transaction fees in the past was that the calculation of those fees was complex and arcane. It has been the result of several updates to the protocol, and has developed organically.
Updates to the core software handling bitcoin transactions will see it change the way that it handles transaction fees, instead estimating the lowest fee that will be accepted.
Can I get a receipt?
Bitcoin wasn’t really meant for receipts. Although there are changes coming in version 0.9 that will alter the way payments work, making them far more user-friendly and mature.
Payment processors like BitPay also provide the advanced features that you wouldn’t normally get with a native bitcoin transaction, such as receipts and order confirmation web pages.
What if I only want to send part of a bitcoin?
Bitcoin transactions are divisible. A satoshi is one hundred millionth of a bitcoin, and it is possible to send a transaction as small as 5430 satoshis on the bitcoin network.
Selling bitcoin isn’t quite as straightforward as buying bitcoin, but fortunately CoinDesk is here to help. This guide will give you all the information you need to cash out your digital currency.
When deciding how to sell your bitcoin, you first need to consider which method best suits your situation: selling bitcoin online or selling bitcoin in person. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Selling bitcoin online
Selling bitcoin online is by far the more common way of trading your bitcoin. There are now three ways to go about selling bitcoin online.
1. The first way involves a direct trade with another person, an intermediary facilitating the connection.
2. The second way is through an online exchange, where your trade is with the exchange rather than another individual.
3. New peer-to-peer trading marketplaces that allow bitcoin owners to obtain discounted goods with their bitcoin via others that want to obtain the cryptocurrency with credit/debit cards. The two groups are brought together to solve both problems in a kind of peer-to-peer exchange.
On these sites, you will usually have to register as a seller. This involves verifying your identity, which we will discuss again later. Once you have registered, you can post an offer, signalling that you want to sell, and the website will alert you when a buyer wants to trade with you. From there, your interaction is solely with the buyer, but you use the website to complete your trade.
The process of selling on Bitbargain UK and (more so) Bittylicious can be quite involved and requires some patience. However, support at the former site has been great in our experience. Bitcoin users with bank accounts in the United States should consider usingCoinbase or Circle, which has won many fans with its simplicity.
2. Exchange trades: The other way to sell bitcoins is to register with an online exchange. You will still have to verify your identity, but in this case you won’t have to do as much work when it comes to organizing the sale.
Exchanges act as an intermediary who holds everyone’s funds. You place a ‘sell order’ (just as you would place a buy order), stating the volume (amount) and type of currency you wish to sell (eg bitcoin), and the price per unit you wish to sell for.
As soon as someone places a matching buy order, the exchange will complete the transaction. The currency will then be credited to your account.
The downside that accompanies this ease of use is that, if you are selling bitcoin for fiat currencies, you will need to withdraw those funds to your bank. If the exchange is facing liquidity problems or issues with its banks, it can take an inordinate amount of time to receive your funds.
Mt. Gox became infamous for this problem before it went bankrupt, and BTC-e has recently been plagued with reports of similar difficulties. Therefore, you should carefully research the exchange you intend to use before committing funds.
Alternatively, you could use a pure cryptocurrency exchange to change bitcoin for another cryptocurrency. It’s less likely that anyone would want to do this, but there are reasons such as arbitrage, or the rare occasion if a shop accepts something other than bitcoin (for example, Bitcoin Shop now accepts litecoin and dogeoin too, for a wide range of goods).
In addition, you’ll have to pay a fee to use some exchanges. BTC-e charges a flat 0.2%. For overviews of what fees are charged by the various cyrptocurrency markets and what volumes are being traded, see CoinCompare and Bitcoin Charts for up-to-date information.
Another consideration is that there will be some limit to the amount of money you are allowed to store (subject to change over time) on an exchange. Regardless, it is not wise to use exchanges to store your entire pot of coins, even though it can appear to be the easy option if all you are doing is speculating.
You should take responsibility for your own funds, and store any unneeded amounts on your own devices or offline, rather than trusting an exchange that might one day be hacked.
3. Peer-to-peer trading marketplaces
The first group are individuals who want to be able to use bitcoin to buy goods from sites which do not yet directly accept digital currencies. The second comprises of others who would like to buy bitcoin with a credit or debit card. The marketplace brings together individuals with matching requirements to effectively sell bitcoin to one and provide discounted goods for the other.
The marketplace acts as an intermediary, offering users the platform, bitcoin wallet and escrow for transactions.
How it works:
- Alice posts her required Amazon wish list on the marketplace, stating the discount she would like (normally up to 25%).
- Bob has a credit/debit card and wants to buy bitcoin matching the value of Alice’s purchase(s). He accepts the trade and, through the marketplace, buys the Amazon goods and requests they be delivered to Alice’s address.
- Once the goods are delivered, Alice notifies the marketplace and Bob’s bitcoin are released from escrow and arrive in his wallet, minus Alice’s agreed discount and a small fee for the marketplace.
This system does mean that Bob will be paying a relatively high fee for the service, but also means he will be easily able to acquire bitcoin via bank card.
Concerns with withdrawing funds
The universal way to move money around the world is international wire transfers. Most (if not all) online bitcoin markets support this method of transferral.
Another way to transfer money to your bank after selling bitcoin is via the “Single European Payments Area” (SEPA) system. SEPA was designed to make international transfers between member states of the European Union more efficient. Some exchanges (such as Kraken and BTC-e) support these payments.
However, transfers take a very long time (around four days), and can incur large charges – potentially making trading prohibitively expensive. HSBC, for example, charges £4 per SEPA payment made via online banking and £9 per WorldPay transaction. Barclays charges £15 per SEPA payment and £25 for other international transactions.
If you are opening an account with the specific purpose of receiving funds from bitcoin trading, you may find high street banks refuse to do business with you. HSBC has explicitly refused the author of this guide accounts for bitcoin trading.
You can also use third-party payment processors to withdraw and receive fiat funds. The numbers of these services is dwindling, however. OKpay recently stopped engaging with bitcoin businesses.
While many of the bitcoin markets mentioned here require very little identification from buyers, they require a lot of proof of identity from sellers. There are few legal requirements from bitcoin markets to record who their users are, but most (if not all) are preemptively collecting identity data in anticipation of forthcoming regulations.
To make becoming a seller easier, it is worth at least considering completing the identity verification process when you first join the site. Getting this step out of the way can remove barriers to selling if and when you’re ready to make the move.
Expect markets to ask you to upload scans of two utility bills displaying your name and address, along with a photo ID (such as a passport or driving licence). Some (such as BitBargain UK) may even ask you to take a selfie including your photo ID and the name of the market on a piece of paper!
If you are not comfortable uploading such personal documents to an (effectively) untrusted business, then you will have a difficult time finding somewhere to sell bitcoin online.
2. Selling bitcoin in person
Selling bitcoin in person can, in many ways, be the easiest way to pass on your digital currency. Simply scanning a QR code on another person’s phone and accepting cash-in-hand is about as easy as a bitcoin transaction can get.
If you have friends or family who want to buy bitcoin, the process is simple. Set them up with a bitcoin wallet, send them the bitcoins and collect your cash.
There are several things to be aware of when selling bitcoin in person.
Agree on a price: Decide on a rate works for you.
- Many use a price from a prominent bitcoin exchange, or the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index.
- Some sellers apply a percentage on top of these rates to cover costs and as a convenience/anonymity premium.
- You could use a mobile app to calculate prices. Popular apps include Zeroblock and BTCreport.
- It helps to be aware of local fluctuations in price. Price can vary from country to country, often due to difficulties in obtaining bitcoin with the local national currency.
- There are many bitcoin meetups around the world where people are happy to trade bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
- It is always wise when carrying a large amount of cash to meet in a public place and/or go with a friend.
- Alternatively, you could advertise yourself as a bitcoin seller to a wider audience. The definitive site for this is LocalBitcoins. This website allows users to rate each other, so one may assess the trustworthiness of a potential trade partner. You may be able to sell with a premium attached once you have a reliable reputation.
- You do not need to verify your identity as on other sites.
- Again, if you are setting yourself up for an in-person meeting using LocalBitcoins, you must always think about the general safety rules for meeting a stranger from the Internet.
- LocalBitcoins also supports escrow transactions, however, these are for online transactions, not face-to-face deals. Therefore, do not comply with requests for someone who asks for escrow for a face-to-face transaction.
Bitcoin wallets store the private keys that you need to access a bitcoin address and spend your funds. They come in different forms, designed for different types of device. You can even use paper storage to avoid having them on a computer at all. Of course, it is very important to secure and back up your bitcoin wallet.
Bitcoins are a modern equivalent of cash and, every day, another merchant starts accepting them as payment. We know how they are generated and how a bitcoin transaction works, but how are they stored? We store fiat cash in a physical wallet, and bitcoin works in a similar way, except it’s normally digital.
Well, to be absolutely accurate, you don’t technically store bitcoins anywhere. What you store are the secure digital keys used to access your public bitcoin addresses and sign transactions. This information is stored in a bitcoin wallet.
Bitcoin wallets come in a variety of forms. There are five main types of wallet: desktop, mobile, web, paper and hardware. Here’s how they work.
If you have already installed the original bitcoin client (Bitcoin Core), then you are running a wallet, but may not even know it. In addition to relaying transactions on the network, this software also enables you to create a bitcoin address for sending and receiving the virtual currency, and to store the private key for it.
There are other desktop wallets too, all with different features. MultiBit runs on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux. Hive is an OS X-based wallet with some unique features, including an app store that connects directly to bitcoin services.
Some desktop wallets are tailored for enhanced security: Armory falls into this category.
Others focus on anonymity: DarkWallet – uses a lightweight browser plug-in to provide services including coin ‘mixing’ in which users’ coins are exchanged for others’, to prevent people tracking them.
Desktop-based wallets are all very well, but they aren’t very useful if you are out on the street, trying to pay for something in a physical store. This is where a mobile walletcomes in handy. Running as an app on your smartphone, the wallet can store the private keys for your bitcoin addresses, and enable you to pay for things directly with your phone.
In some cases, a bitcoin wallet will even take advantage of a smartphone’s near-field communication (NFC) feature, enabling you to tap the phone against a reader and pay with bitcoins without having to enter any information at all.
One common feature of mobile wallets is that they are not full bitcoin clients. A full bitcoin client has to download the entire bitcoin blockchain, which is always growing and is multiple gigabytes in size. That could get you into a heap of trouble with your mobile service provider, who will be only too happy to send you a hefty bill for downloading it over a cellular link. Many phones wouldn’t be able to hold the blockchain in their memory, in any case.
Instead, these mobile clients are often designed with simplified payment verification (SPV) in mind. They download a very small subset of the blockchain, and rely on other, trusted nodes in the bitcoin network to ensure that they have the right information.
Apple is notoriously paranoid about bitcoin wallets. Coinbase had its mobile wallet apppulled from the app store altogether in November 2013, and this was followed in February 2014 by removal of Blockchain’s iOS app. However, in July 2014, bitcoin wallet apps began to reappear on the iOS store, and now all of the major bitcoin wallet providers have released new editions of their previous apps.
There are also other types of wallets that can be used on a mobile, such as the browser-based wallet CoinPunk is developing. Another unusual wallet is the Aegis Bitcoin Wallet, which supports Android smartwatches.
Web-based wallets store your private keys online, on a computer controlled by someone else and connected to the Internet. Several such online services are available, and some of them link to mobile and desktop wallets, replicating your addresses between different devices that you own.
One advantage of web-based wallets is that you can access them from anywhere, regardless of which device you are using. However, they also have one major disadvantage: unless implemented correctly, they can put the organisation running the website in charge of your private keys – essentially taking your bitcoins out of your control. That’s a scary thought, especially if you begin to accrue lots of bitcoins.
Coinbase, an integrated wallet/bitcoin exchange operates its online wallet worldwide. Users in the US and Europe can buy bitcoin through its exchange services.
Circle offers users worldwide the chance to store, send, receive and buy bitcoins. Currently only US citizens are able to link bank accounts to deposit funds, but credit and debit cards are also an option for users in other countries.
Blockchain also hosts a popular web-based wallet, and Strongcoin offers what it calls a hybrid wallet, which lets you encrypt your private address keys before sending them to its servers – encryption is carried out in the browser.
Xapo aims to provide the convenience of an simple bitcoin wallet with the added security of a cold-storage vault.
Hardware wallets are currently very limited in number. These are dedicated devices that can hold private keys electronically and facilitate payments.
Trezor hardware wallet
The Trezor hardware wallet is targeted at bitcoiners who wish to maintain a substantial stash of coins, but do not want to rely on third-party bitcoin storage services or impractical forms of cold storage. Read our Trezor hardware wallet review to find out more.
Ledger USB wallet
Mycelium, Cryptolabs and BitStash currently have a hardware wallets in development, but, as of December 2014 none of these had delivered finished products. Announced on February 4th 2014, is the Nymi sports wristband from Boinym, which can act as a bitcoin wallet and uses your heart rhythm as a security key.
|Ledger Nano||Ledger Review||€34.80||BUY ONLINE|
|SatoshiLabs Trezor||Trezor Review||$119||BUY ONLNE|
One of the most popular and cheapest options for keeping your bitcoins safe is something called a paper wallet. There are several sites offering paper bitcoin wallet services. They will generate a bitcoin address for you and create an image containing two QR codes: one is the public address that you can use to receive bitcoins; the other is the private key, which you can use to spend bitcoins stored at that address.
The benefit of a paper wallet that is made correctly is that the private keys are not stored digitally anywhere, and are therefore not subject to standard cyber-attacks or hardware failures.
To find out more about creating a paper wallet, read our tutorial.
Are bitcoin wallets safe?
It depends how you manage them. The private keys stored in your wallet are the only way to access the transaction data stored in a bitcoin address. If you lose them, you lose your bitcoins. So, they are only safe in so far as no one else can access them, and they don’t get lost.
Are bitcoin wallets anonymous?
On the one hand, bitcoin is entirely anonymous. On the other, it is completely transparent and trackable. Due to this fact, bitcoin is often cited as being pseudonymous.
This fact resulted in some companies emerging with the goal of controversially tracking suspect transactions to ‘police’ the blockchain. To counter this, ideas were developed in the bitcoin community to take anonymity further, such as merge avoidance, stealth addresses, and coin mixing.
The alpha version of Dark Wallet – a crowdfunded bitcoin wallet – went live in May 2014. Created by Amir Taaki and Cody Wilson, Dark Wallet was designed to provide new tools for financial privacy, including in-built coin mixing and stealth wallet addresses. At the time of writing, the developers are urging users to use the testnet with ‘play money’ to iron out bugs before risking significant amounts of bitcoin.
Wallets and services like Dark Wallet ultimately mean that using bitcoin can be as anonymous as you want it to be.
How can I secure my wallet?
There are several ways to make your bitcoin wallet more secure:
One way to protect your wallet from prying eyes is to encrypt it with a strong password. This makes it difficult to access your wallet, but not impossible. If your computer is compromised by malware, thieves could log your keystrokes to find your password.
Back it up
If you have your private keys stored in one wallet, but you mislay that wallet or it gets corrupted, you will lose your keys. Backing up your wallet makes a copy of your private keys, but it’s important to back up your whole wallet. Some addresses are used to store change from transactions, and may not be shown to you by default. Back up the whole wallet in several different places, and keep them safe from prying eyes.
The number of services which support multi-signature transactions is increasing. Multi-signature addresses allow multiple parties to partially seed an address with a public key. When someone wants to spend some of the bitcoins, they need some of these people to sign their transaction in addition to themselves. The required number of signatures is agreed at the start when people create the address.
Since multiple signatures are needed before funds can be spent, the additional signatures could come from, say, a business partner, your significant other, or even from a second device which you own, to add a second factor to spending your coins.
Take it offline
If you are too nervous to store your bitcoin keys digitally, for fear that they may be stolen by hackers, there is another option: ‘cold storage’. Cold storage wallets store private bitcoin keys offline, so that they can’t be stolen by someone else on the Internet.
It’s a good idea to use cold storage for the bulk of your bitcoin fortune, and transfer just a little to separate bitcoin addresses in a ‘hot’ wallet with an Internet connection, making it easy to spend. That way, even if your mobile phone is lost, or the hot wallet on your notebook PC is erased during a hard drive crash, only a small amount of bitcoin cash is at risk.
Many software bitcoin wallets feature a cold storage option. Or, you could go completely analogue, and simply use paper wallets for offline storage.
Paper wallet image via zcopley / Flickr
OK, so you’ve learned the basics about bitcoin, the next step is to get some bitcoins. But how? This guide will tell you what you need to know.
You can buy bitcoins from either exchanges, or directly from other people via marketplaces.
You can pay for them in a variety of ways, ranging from hard cash to credit and debit cards to wire transfers, or even with other cryptocurrencies, depending on who you are buying them from and where you live.
Surprisingly, it’s still not easy to buy bitcoins with your credit card or PayPal, depending on your jurisdiction.
This is because such transactions can easily be reversed with a phone call to the card company (ie ‘chargebacks’). Since it’s hard to prove any goods changed hands in a transfer of bitcoins, exchanges avoid this payment method and so do most private sellers.
However, the options have recently grown for consumers in some countries.
In the US, Coinbase, Circle and Coin.mx offer purchases with credit cards.Bittylicious and CoinCorner also offer this service in the UK, accepting 3D Secure-enabled cards on the Visa and MasterCard networks. For small amounts of bitcoin, you can use a card to buy $20-worth at Tinkercoin.
Underbanked consumers in the US can turn to expresscoin, which recently launched to serve this market, accepting money orders, personal checks and wire transfers.
First, get yourself a bitcoin wallet
Next, you will need a place to store your new bitcoins. In the bitcoin world, they’re called a ‘wallet’ but it might be best to think of them as a kind of bank account.
Depending on the security levels you want, different wallets will provide different levels of security. Some act like everyday spending accounts and are comparable to a traditional leather wallet, while others tout military-grade protections.
The main options are: (1) a software wallet stored on the hard drive of your computer, (2) an online, web-based service or (3) a ‘vault’ service that keeps your bitcoins protected offline or multisig wallet that uses a number of keys to protect the account.
Most have their vulnerabilities: if you store bitcoins locally on your computer, make sure you back up your wallet regularly in case the drive becomes corrupted; and online web wallets employ varying degrees of security against hackers, from quite good (multi-factor authentication) to quite poor (ID and password).
For more on storing bitcoins, see our guide on the subject.
Exchanges and Online Wallets
Bitcoin newcomers will find a variety of exchanges and wallets competing for their business.
Some are full-blown exchanges for institutional traders, while others are simpler wallet services with a more limited buying and selling capabilities.
Most exchanges and wallets will store amounts of digital and/or fiat currency for you, much like a regular bank account.
Exchanges and wallets are the best option if you want to engage in regular trading and speculation, don’t need total anonymity and don’t mind lengthy bureaucratic setup procedures that usually involve proof of identity and supplying detailed contact information.
This is the law in most countries and no regulated exchange can get around it, as any company interfacing with the current financial system must meet ‘know your customer’ (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) requirements.
The best exchange option also depends where you’re located.
For more information, you can check out this list of major bitcoin exchanges/wallets around the world, and the payment options they allow.
See our guide: How to buy bitcoins in the UK
CoinBase is a popular wallet and exchange service that will also trade US dollars and euros for bitcoins. The company has web and mobile apps. Originally a US-only service, Coinbase has recently opened up to a large number of European countries.
Circle offers users worldwide the chance to store, send, receive and exchange bitcoins. Currently only US citizens are able to link bank accounts to deposit funds, but credit and debit cards are also an option. Apps for iOS and Android are now available.
Wallet and bitcoin debit card provider Xapo has also recently entered the fray, offering deposits in fiat currency that are converted to bitcoin in your account.
Unocoin is an exchange aimed at the Indian market, allowing users to buy, sell and store bitcoin. Deposits can be made via any national online bank or through NEFT/RTGS. Registration with a PAN card is necessary to use the site’s services.
Once you’ve set up your account, you’ll probably need to link an existing bank account and arrange to move funds between it and your new exchange account via wire transfer. This usually entails a fee. Some exchanges allow you to make a deposit in person to their bank account (that is, via a human teller, not an ATM).
While people in most countries can transfer money to overseas accounts, fees are much higher and you may face more long delays changing your bitcoins back into fiat currency (should you still wish to do that).
If you are required to link a bank account to use the exchange, it may only admit banks from that country.
|Coinbase operates one of the most popular wallets and is an simple way to buy bitcoin. $5 bonus on sign up.||USA||BUY BITCOIN|
|Buy or deposit with a credit card. $5 bonus on sign up.||USA||BUY BITCOIN|
|Localbitcoins matches buyers and sellers online and in-person, locally worldwide.||Finland||BUY BITCOIN|
|Xapo is Known for it’s ease of use and bitcoin cold-storage vault.||USA||BUY BITCOIN|
Warnings about exchanges, wallets and banks
Despite the proof of identity requirements, remember exchanges and wallets don’t provide the same protections banks do.
For example, there is often no or limited insurance for your account if the exchange goes out of business or is robbed by hackers, such as was the case with the infamous failed exchange Mt Gox.
Bitcoin does not have legal status as a currency in most of the world, and authorities usually do not know how best to approach thefts. Some larger exchanges have replaced customer funds after a theft from the exchange itself, but at this stage they are not legally obliged to do so.
Further, if a theft from your personal wallet occurs due to a security or password lapse on your part, you do not have any guaranteed way to recover your funds.
Some existing banks see digital currency refuse to work with funds that were the result of digital currency transactions, citing regulatory uncertainty.
Check the list below first to see if your bank may have taken action against users in the past, and for your protection, open an account with a bank known to be more bitcoin-friendly.
Here are some banks known to discriminate against bitcoin.
Face-to-face, or ‘over-the-counter’ (OTC) trades
If you live in a city, prefer anonymity or don’t want bank hassles, the easiest option to acquire bitcoin is to make a face-to-face trade with a local seller.
LocalBitcoins is the primary site where such transactions are arranged and prices negotiated. The site also provides an escrow service as an added layer of protection for both parties.
There are security considerations for both buyers and sellers, especially if the trade is a sizeable one. Always meet in a busy public place, don’t meet in private homes and take all the precautions you’d usually taken when walking around with large amounts of cash.
Remember, if you’re meeting face-to-face somewhere, you’ll need to have access to your bitcoin wallet. Whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or laptop, you’ll also need live Internet access to confirm the transaction.
If one-on-one trades aren’t your thing, check out Meetup.com to see if your area has a bitcoin meetup group, where you can do it all in a group setting and learn a lot from the other members in the process.
Depending on the seller, you may pay a premium of around 5-10% over the exchange price for a face-to-face trade, for convenience and privacy. A reputable trader will negotiate the price before a meeting, but many won’t want to wait too long in case bitcoin’s value takes a dramatic shift.
Some sellers may let you use a PayPal account to pay, though most prefer non-reversible cash for the reasons described earlier.
It’s also wise to check first if such trades are legal in your local area. There is also a slight danger you’ll arouse police suspicion by exchanging cash in a public place, if they think you’re trading something more illicit.
A word or two about ‘mining’
What about this mining thing? I’ve heard you can make your own bitcoins.
You might’ve heard about ‘mining’ your own bitcoins with your PC or a powerful graphics card. That was possible until not so long ago, but time and the increasing popularity of bitcoin have brought more and more powerful, mining-specific devices (called ASICs) onto the network, increasing the difficulty and energy required to mine worthwhile amounts of bitcoin.
Added to that, the number of bitcoins remaining to be mined diminishes sharply as time progresses. All this means mining as an individual isn’t as cost-effective as it was just a year ago. Many end up paying more for hardware and electricity than they ever make back in bitcoin.
Most mining these days is the domain of large mining groups called ‘pools’, and companies set up specifically to mine. You may choose to buy shares in such a pool or company, but mining is definitely not the hobbyist pursuit it once was. If you want to get into mining, our guide to that is here.
Anyone who claims you can mine bitcoins with an ordinary PC or even a graphics card array in 2014 either has out-of-date information, or may be trying to sell you outdated equipment. Beware.
Another relatively new option is ‘cloud mining’, where to mine bitcoins without investing in expensive and fast-dating equipment, a person pays to use a company’s data centres to mine on their behalf. For more, see our guide to cloud mining.
An investment trust
This trust invests exclusively in bitcoins and uses a state-of-the-art protocol to store them safely on behalf of its shareholders. So far, the fund has been exclusively for serious (i.e.: very rich) investors, but is to open to all, hopefully by the fourth quarter of 2014.
The Bitcoin Superfund is a new option soon to launch in the UK.
Though a relatively new concept, bitcoin ATMs are growing in number.
Like a face-to-face exchange but with a machine, you insert your cash and either scan your mobile wallet QR code or receive a paper receipt with the codes necessary to load the bitcoins onto your wallet.
Exchange rates vary, and may be anything from 3% to 8% on top of a standard exchange price.
Buying bitcoins is not always as easy as newcomers expect. The good news is the number of options is increasing all the time.
Some may not even necessarily require a wallet or Internet access. Other ideas have included bitcoin debit cards, physical bitcoin ‘coins’ with a wallet value pre-loaded, and stored-value cards.