Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters || Thumbnail credit theguardian.com
Bitcoin seems to be all the hype lately. From a low of $500 (U.S.) near the beginning of the year, all the way up to over $3,000 (U.S.) on June 11, there is good reason to be excited about this cryptocurrency. With more investor eyes on it this exciting currency now more than ever before, it’s time to take a look at what is needed in order to make your own investment in this mysterious currency.
Below is some coverage on “mining for money,” “buying bitcoins” and “wallets” – all of the important steps needed to know in investing in cryptocurrency, provided via Jack Schofield’s article “How can I invest in bitcoin?”
Mining for money
Bitcoins are “mined” by people solving problems with computers. In the beginning, the best way to make money from bitcoins was to mine them with a home PC. However, bitcoin mining becomes more difficult the more miners there are. Today, you need specialised hardware, and you need to join a “mining pool” where large numbers of miners work together and share the results. Coins are not pure profit because of the cost of the hardware and the electricity consumed when mining. Also, you don’t know what bitcoins will be worth when you start mining them.
However, there must be dozens of digital currencies besides bitcoin, and the CoinChoose website lists a Top 20. Well known alternatives include Ethereum, Litecoin, Dogecoin and Bytecoin. You might find one that is still worth mining, or that might represent a better gamble than bitcoin. CryptoCompare is another useful website.
Ethereum is interesting because it’s backed by an alliance that includes JP Morgan, Microsoft, Intel, Banco Santander, Credit Suisse Group, UBS and BP. It’s designed to perform transactions very much faster than bitcoin, and its hashing system is decentralised by design. It favours individuals, not mining pools.
You can buy bitcoins from a bitcoin exchange or online broker, directly from another individual, or from an ATM. Coin ATM Radar lists about 50 bitcoin ATMs in London, many of them in convenience stores. As when buying foreign currencies, there’s a fee, which can range from 3.1% to 17.6%. The website covers 56 countries and you can search for an ATM near you.
A bitcoin ATM usually takes cash from your bank card, though some only accept banknotes. It sends your digital currency (bitcoin, litecoin etc) to your wallet, which could be a smartphone app, or to your email address. Some ATMs can print “paper wallets” that you can scan later.
If you buy a digital currency from an exchange, it may well offer you an online wallet, but your money is at risk unless you have the keys. When the Mt Gox bitcoin exchange was hacked, around 850,000 bitcoins went missing. It was a $450m loss at the time, but at today’s exchange rate, it would be $2bn.
There are dozens of different wallets for different purposes, with “hot” wallets on smartphones and “cold storage” wallets held offline on paper, on hardware devices (cards, thumbdrives etc) or on separate PCs. These are equivalent to your spending money and your savings account respectively.
You will need to research wallets. However, We Use Coins has a decent guide, and it recommends BitPay’s Copay to beginners. It’s easy to use and it runs on iOS, Android, Windows and Windows Phone, MacOS and Linux. It can also handle shared accounts.
I used my Android phone to search for “bitcoin wallet” on Google Play, and gave up when it produced around 200 results. Copay was near the top. It only took two minutes to create a wallet, and it prompted me to make a backup: “Watch out! If this device is replaced or this app is deleted, neither you nor BitPay can recover your funds without a backup.”
It also warned me that “Anyone with your backup phrase can access or spend your bitcoin”. I dutifully wrote it down.
Once the wallet is set up, you can use the app to buy bitcoins from Coinbase in 33 countries, and from Glidera in the USA. It can take several days to buy or sell bitcoins via Coinbase.