What are cryptocurrencies?

2023-06-12 Patryk Chodyniecki

In this guide, I will try to give you all the information about what cryptocurrencies are, how they work, and their advantages and disadvantages. 

What is cryptocurrency? 

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency backed by cryptography, making counterfeit or double-spending almost impossible. Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized networks based on blockchain technology – a distributed ledger controlled by different computers. A distinctive feature of cryptocurrencies is that they are usually not issued by any central authority, making them immune to government interference or manipulation. This means, in practice, that cryptocurrencies will not be subject to inflation. 

What is blockchain technology?

Blockchain technology is an extremely important feature and functionality of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. As its name implies, a blockchain is a set of linked blocks of information in an online registry. Each block contains a set of transactions that have been independently verified by every validator on the network. Each newly generated block must be verified by each node before confirmation, making it virtually impossible to falsify transaction histories. The contents of the online registry must be agreed upon by the network of individual nodes, the computers that maintain the registry. Experts say blockchain technology can be used in various industries, supply chains, and processes, such as online voting and crowdfunding. Financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) are testing the use of blockchain technology to reduce transaction costs by streamlining payment processing.

What types of cryptocurrencies are there?

Many cryptocurrencies have been created to facilitate work on the blockchain on which they are based. Ethereum ether, for example, was designed as a payment for verification work done on the blockchain. When the blockchain moved to a proof-of-stake (PoS) mechanism in September 2022, ether (ETH) was given an additional task as the blockchain’s staking mechanism. XRP Ripple is designed to facilitate transfers between different countries by banks. Since many cryptocurrencies are on the market, it is important to understand their types. Understanding whether the coin you’re looking at has a purpose will help you decide whether it’s worth investing in – a cryptocurrency with no purpose is likely riskier than one with a specific utility. Often when you hear about types of cryptocurrencies, you hear the name coins. Here are some of the types of cryptocurrencies you can find, along with the names of the tokens in this category:

  • Utility: XRP and ETH are two examples of utility tokens. They perform specific functions on their respective blockchains.
  • Transactional: Tokens designed to be used as a payment method. Bitcoin is the most well-known of these. 
  • Gubernatorial: These tokens represent voting or other rights on the blockchain, such as Uniswap.
  • Platform-based: These tokens support applications built to use the blockchain, such as Solana. 
  • Security tokens: Tokens representing asset ownership, such as tokenized shares (value transferred to blockchain). An example of a security token is the MS Token. If you find one for sale, you can gain partial ownership over Millennium Sapphire. Suppose you come across a cryptocurrency that doesn’t fit into these categories. In that case, you’ve come across a new category or something that must be investigated to ensure it’s real.

Are cryptocurrencies legitimate?

Fiat currencies derive their authority from the government or monetary authorities. For example, every dollar has backing from the Federal Reserve. However, cryptocurrencies are not backed by any public or private institutions. Therefore, making a convincing case for their legitimate status in various financial jurisdictions worldwide is difficult. Additionally, cryptocurrencies mainly operate outside the existing financial infrastructure. The legal status of cryptocurrencies has implications for their use in everyday transactions and trading. In June 2019, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommended that cryptocurrency remittances be subject to the requirements of the so-called Travel Rule, which includes compliance with anti-money laundering regulations. As of January 2023, only El Salvador and the Central African Republic accept Bitcoin as legal tender for money transactions. In the rest of the world, the regulation of cryptocurrencies varies by jurisdiction. In Japan, the Payment Services Act defines Bitcoin as legal property. Cryptocurrency exchanges operating in the country must collect customer information and remittance details. China has banned cryptocurrency exchanges and mining in its country. India was expected to develop a legal framework for cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies are legal in the European Union. Derivatives and other products using cryptocurrencies must qualify as “financial instruments.” In June 2021, the European Commission published the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA) regulation, establishing regulatory principles and rules for companies or providers that provide financial services using cryptocurrencies. In the United States, the world’s largest and most sophisticated financial market, cryptocurrency derivatives, such as Bitcoin futures, are available on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. In the past, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken the position that Bitcoin and Ethereum are not securities. However, in September 2022, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler stated that he considers cryptocurrencies securities. This position suggests that the legal status of cryptocurrencies may be subject to regulation. Although cryptocurrencies are considered a form of money, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats them as financial assets or property for tax purposes. As with most other investments, the government wants a share of the profits if you make capital gains from selling or exchanging cryptocurrencies. How the IRS taxes digital assets – as capital gains or ordinary income – depends on how long the taxpayer has owned the cryptocurrency and how he or she used it.

Are cryptocurrencies safe investments?

Cryptocurrencies have earned a reputation as insecure investments due to high investor losses from fraud, hacking, and mistakes. While basic cryptography is generally safe, the technical complexity of using and storing crypto assets can pose significant risks to new users. In addition to the market risks associated with speculative assets, cryptocurrency investors should be aware of the following risks:

  • User risk: Unlike traditional finance, there is no way to undo or cancel a cryptocurrency transaction once it has been sent. According to some estimates, about one-fifth of all Bitcoin is now unreachable due to lost passwords or incorrect sending addresses. 
  • Regulatory risk: The regulatory status of some cryptocurrencies is still unclear, with many governments seeking to regulate them as securities, currencies or both. Sudden regulatory action could make it difficult to sell cryptocurrencies or cause a general drop in market prices. 
  • Counterparty risk: Many investors and sellers rely on exchanges or other entities to store cryptocurrencies. Theft or loss by one of these third parties can result in the loss of the entire investment.
  •  Governance risk: Due to the lack of consistent regulations, there are few safeguards against fraudulent or unethical management practices. Many investors have lost large sums due to management teams that could not deliver the product.
  • Software risk: Many investment and lending platforms use automated smart contracts to control the flow of user deposits. An investor using one of these platforms runs the risk of an error or vulnerability in these programs, which could result in a loss of investment. 
  • Market manipulation: Market manipulation remains a serious problem for cryptocurrencies, with influential individuals, organizations, and exchanges operating unethically. Despite these risks, cryptocurrencies have seen significant price increases, with total market capitalization rising to over $1 trillion. Despite the speculative nature of the asset, some people were able to create significant fortunes by taking the risk of investing in early cryptocurrencies.

Advantages and disadvantages of cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrencies were introduced to revolutionize the financial infrastructure. However, as with any revolution, there are trade-offs involved. At the current stage of cryptocurrency development, there are many differences between the theoretical ideal of a decentralized cryptocurrency-based system and its practical implementation. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of cryptocurrencies.

Advantages of cryptocurrencies:

  • Eliminates single points of failure
  • Facilitates the transfer of funds between parties
  • Eliminates intermediaries
  • Can generate profits
  • Facilitates remittances
  • Disadvantages of cryptocurrencies:
  • Transactions are pseudonymous
  • Pseudonymity allows use in criminal activities
  • Have become highly centralized
  • Expensive to participate in and monetize the network
  • Off-chain security problems
  • Prices are highly volatile

Explaining the advantages of cryptocurrencies

  • Cryptocurrencies represent a new decentralized monetary option. In this system, central intermediaries, like banks and monetary institutions, are unnecessary to ensure trust and control of transactions between two parties. In this way, a system with cryptocurrencies eliminates the possibility of a single point of failure, such as a large bank, triggering a cascade of global crises, as happened in 2008 with the collapse of an institution in the United States.
  • Cryptocurrencies promise to facilitate the direct transfer of funds between two parties without needing a trusted intermediary such as a bank or credit card company. Such decentralized transfers are secured through the use of public and private keys and various forms of incentive systems, such as proof of work or participation. 
  • Because they do not use intermediaries, cryptocurrency transfers between two parties can be faster than standard money transfers. Flash loans in decentralized finance are a prime example of such decentralized transfers. These loans, processed without collateral, can be made in seconds and used for trading. Investments in cryptocurrencies can generate profits.
  • Cryptocurrency markets have achieved huge increases in value over the past decade, reaching nearly $2 trillion at one point. In April 2023, for example, Bitcoin was worth more than $540 billion on cryptocurrency markets. The remittance economy is testing one of the most important uses of cryptocurrencies. 
  • Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin serve as intermediary currencies to streamline international remittances. In this way, fiat currency is converted to Bitcoin (or another cryptocurrency), sent across borders, and then converted to the destination fiat currency. This method streamlines the money transfer process and reduces its cost.

Explaining the drawbacks of cryptocurrencies

Despite claims of anonymous transactions, cryptocurrencies are pseudonymous. They leave a digital trail that agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can investigate. This opens up the possibility for governments, authorities (and others) to track financial transactions. 

  • Cryptocurrencies have become a popular tool for criminals for illegal activities such as money laundering and illegal purchases. An example is the case of Dread Pirate Roberts, who ran a platform for selling drugs in the so-called Dark web. Cryptocurrencies have also become a favorite tool of hackers, who use them for ransomware activities. 
  • In theory, cryptocurrencies are supposed to be decentralized, with their wealth dispersed among many entities on the blockchain. In reality, ownership is highly concentrated. For example, only 100 addresses own about 12% of Bitcoin’s circulation and total value. 
  • One of the beliefs about cryptocurrencies is that anyone can mine them using a computer and an Internet connection. However, mining popular cryptocurrencies requires significant energy, sometimes as much as total countries consume. The energy costs and unpredictability have concentrated mining among large companies with billions of dollars in revenue. For example, only 98 (2%) of the 4,882 Bitcoin blocks opened from December 29 2022 to January 29 2023, were opened by unknown addresses – mining pools opened the remaining 98%. 
  • Although cryptocurrency blockchains are very secure, repositories that store cryptographic keys off-chain, such as exchanges and wallets, can be vulnerable to hacking attacks. Many cryptocurrency exchanges and wallets have been victims of hacking attacks over the years, sometimes resulting in the theft of millions of dollars.
  • Cryptocurrencies listed on public markets suffer from price volatility. Bitcoin, for example, has experienced sharp ups and downs in value, reaching nearly $65,000 in November 2021 and falling to just over $20,000 a year and a half later. As a result, many people consider cryptocurrencies a short-lived fad or speculative bubble. 

How to buy cryptocurrency? 

You can buy cryptocurrencies on popular crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Kraken, and ByBit, apps such as Cash App, or through brokers. Another popular way to invest in cryptocurrencies is through financial instruments.

What is the purpose of cryptocurrencies?

Cryptocurrencies represent a new paradigm for money. They promise to streamline the existing financial architecture to make it faster and cheaper. In addition, their technology and architecture decentralize existing money systems and allow parties to exchange value and money independently of intermediary institutions such as banks.

What are the most popular cryptocurrencies? 

The most popular cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, followed by other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Binance Coin, Solana, and Cardano.

Are cryptocurrencies securities?

In the past, the SEC has said that Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two largest cryptocurrencies by market capitalization, are not securities. In September 2022, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler stated that he considered cryptocurrencies securities and asked SEC staff to begin working with cryptocurrency developers to register their cryptocurrencies. However, he also stressed that he was speaking on his behalf and not on behalf of the SEC. He encouraged cryptocurrency start-ups to register their cryptocurrencies in the spirit of getting ahead, as “it is much less costly from the start.”  

How mine cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency mining is a process in which transactions for various forms of cryptocurrency are verified and added to the blockchain digital ledger. This process involves the use of computing power to solve complex mathematical problems that validate transactions and make the network secure.

Here’s a simplified breakdown of how it works:

  1. Transaction Verification: Miners gather transactions from the network. These transactions are then formed into a block.
  2. Problem Solving: Miners then compete to solve a complex mathematical problem based on a cryptographic hash algorithm. The solution found is called the Proof-of-Work.
  3. Block Addition: Once the problem is solved, the block of transactions is added to the existing blockchain. This is a critical step because it verifies the legitimacy of the transactions, ensuring they are accurate and haven’t been tampered with.
  4. Reward: As an incentive, the miner who solves the problem first is rewarded with a certain amount of cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin, the first and most well-known cryptocurrency, for example, rewards miners with Bitcoin. This reward also serves as a method of introducing new coins into the ecosystem, as Bitcoin (or other “minable” cryptocurrencies) have a capped limit on how many units can be in circulation.

The process of mining requires substantial computational power and energy input, making it quite intensive. In fact, the competitive nature of mining has led to the creation of entire farms dedicated to this activity, where numerous computers run around the clock to mine cryptocurrencies.

Are Cryptocurrencies Legal?

Cryptocurrencies are legal in most jurisdictions but are subject to various levels of regulation. Despite their legality, it’s essential to remember that the security of cryptocurrencies is secured by cryptography, i.e., complex mathematical codes, and that any transaction on a blockchain is permanent, being recorded in a public ledger. Overall, while cryptocurrencies offer a new way to store and use wealth, understanding how cryptocurrencies work, the different types of cryptocurrency available, and their potential risks and rewards is crucial before deciding to engage with this new technology.


Cryptocurrencies are digital assets backed by cryptography. As a relatively new technology, they are highly speculative, so it is important to understand the risks involved before investing. Investing in cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) is highly risky and speculative. Cryptocurrencies, such as the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, created by Satoshi Nakamoto, are digital currencies that also use cryptography for security, operating in a decentralized system where transactions are verified by a disparate network of computers. This process, commonly referred to as mining cryptocurrency, requires mathematical power to solve complex problems and verify transactions. All these transactions are recorded on a blockchain, which is a public ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. Investing in cryptocurrency can be seen as a good investment, similar like stocks, as the value of units of cryptocurrency can fluctify drastically over time. However, like any investment, cryptocurrency investments also come with risks. There have been instances where scam artists have utilized the cryptocurrency sphere to deceive individuals, demonstrating that it is crucial to research thoroughly before you invest in crypto. One can store cryptocurrency in digital wallets, which can also be used to make crypto purchases of goods and services. The transactions are typically one person to another, without the need for intermediaries like banks. There are thousands of different cryptocurrencies available for investment, including Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), and many others. Some digital currencies are even tied to assets like ETFs (Exchange-Traded Funds) or NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). If this article is interesting for you – check out my all portfolio.

AboutPatryk Chodyniecki