Cryptocurrencies are experiencing a moment of unprecedented attention and speculation for several reasons. 1) The value of Bitcoin has been steadily climbing through 2017, with Ether seemingly poised to overtake the cryptocurrency giant any day; 2) Blockchain technology has purposes above and beyond cryptocurrency, and has been hailed by some as the backbone of the future financial system; 3) The increasing number of people who see cryptocurrency as a form of investment similar to gold. If cryptocurrencies stabilize in value, buying Bitcoin or Ether has the potential to be a worthy venture.
Bitcoin is the world’s first cryptocurrency which works on a completely decentralized network known as the blockchain. The blockchain network consists a link of blocks that are secured using cryptography and record all the transactions. Bitcoin was first presented to the world in 2009 by an anonymous identity known as Satoshi Nakamoto. As Bitcoin works on a decentralized network, it is completely free from the involvement of third-party financial institutions or central banks. The Bitcoin blockchain facilitates instant peer-to-peer transactions at minimum transactions fees required to maintain the network. The total number of Bitcoins is fixed at 21 million with its smallest unit being referred to as Satoshi. Each Satoshi represents a hundred millionth part of Bitcoin which means that 100,000,000 Santoshi = 1 BTC. Additional Bitcoins are generated by a process known as mining. Bitcoins are mined by professional miners solving complex computational equations. For each Bitcoin mined, the miners are rewarded with either more coins or transaction fees. The miners also validate all transactions on the Bitcoin network as well as look after the network security. Bitcoin can be exchanged with fiat currencies or other digital currencies. There are over 100,000 merchants and vendors accepting Bitcoin all over the world.
In the case of Bitcoin, miners run computer programs to verify the data that creates a complete transaction history of all Bitcoin. A technology known as the blockchain, which is used to create irreversible and traceable transactions, makes the process of verification possible. Once a miner has verified the data (which comes in a block, hence, blockchain), they are rewarded with some amount of digital currency, the same currency for which they were verifying the transaction history. So mining Bitcoin, for example, would earn you Bitcoin.
The other 2% of customer funds, held online, are covered in the event of a breach of Coinbase's online storage. Also, Coinbase holds all customer fiat currency in custodial bank accounts, on behalf of customers. So, if you have fiat currency in Coinbase, in a USD wallet, it is covered by FDIC insurance up to $250,000 (just like a "regular" bank). This protects customer assets (so long as they have been converted to fiat currency) even in the event of Coinbase becoming insolvent.
On February 16, 2018, Coinbase admitted that some customers were overcharged in error for credit and debit purchases of cryptocurrencies. The problem was initiated when banks and card issuers changed the merchant category code (MCC) for cryptocurrency purchases earlier this month. This meant that cryptocurrency payments would now be processed as "cash advances", meaning that banks and credit card issuers could begin charging customers cash-advance fees for cryptocurrency purchases. Any customers who purchased cryptocurrency on their exchange between January 22 and February 11, 2018 could have been affected. At first, Visa blamed Coinbase, telling the Financial Times on February 16 that it had "not made any systems changes that would result in the duplicate transactions cardholders are reporting." However, the latest statement from Visa and Worldpay on the Coinbase blog clarifies: "This issue was not caused by Coinbase."