Bitcoin solves the "double spending problem" of electronic currencies (in which digital assets can easily be copied and re-used) through an ingenious combination of cryptography and economic incentives. In electronic fiat currencies, this function is fulfilled by banks, which gives them control over the traditional system. With bitcoin, the integrity of the transactions is maintained by a distributed and open network, owned by no-one.

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The price of bitcoins has gone through cycles of appreciation and depreciation referred to by some as bubbles and busts.[155] In 2011, the value of one bitcoin rapidly rose from about US$0.30 to US$32 before returning to US$2.[156] In the latter half of 2012 and during the 2012–13 Cypriot financial crisis, the bitcoin price began to rise,[157] reaching a high of US$266 on 10 April 2013, before crashing to around US$50.[158] On 29 November 2013, the cost of one bitcoin rose to a peak of US$1,242.[159] In 2014, the price fell sharply, and as of April remained depressed at little more than half 2013 prices. As of August 2014 it was under US$600.[160] During their time as bitcoin developers, Gavin Andresen[161] and Mike Hearn[162] warned that bubbles may occur.

“Cryptojacking scams have continued to evolve, and they don’t even need you to install anything,” Jason Adler, an assistant director for the Federal Trade Commission, wrote in a blog post in June. “Scammers can use malicious code embedded in a website or an ad to infect your device. Then they can help themselves to your device’s processor without you even knowing.”

Bitcoin's most important characteristic is that it is decentralized. No single institution controls the bitcoin network. It is maintained by a group of volunteer coders, and run by an open network of dedicated computers spread around the world. This attracts individuals and groups that are uncomfortable with the control that banks or government institutions have over their money.

Transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin was invented by an unknown person or group of people using the name Satoshi Nakamoto[9] and released as open-source software in 2009.[10] Bitcoins are created as a reward for a process known as mining. They can be exchanged for other currencies,[11] products, and services. Research produced by the University of Cambridge estimates that in 2017, there were 2.9 to 5.8 million unique users using a cryptocurrency wallet, most of them using bitcoin.[12]