What Is Cryptocurrency and How Does It Work?

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Cryptocurrency is a relatively new phenomenon that has overtaken the world recently.

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably heard of Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency, but many don’t know what it actually is and how it functions. 

In this article, we’ll explore cryptocurrency and answer some of the most common questions about it. We’ll also examine some of the benefits and drawbacks of cryptocurrencies. 

man studying crypto coin

By the end of this article, you should understand what cryptocurrency is and how it works.

Let’s start with the basics!

What is cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for secure transactions, so it’s difficult to counterfeit because of this security feature. 

Unlike regular money, cryptocurrency is made without any central authority. It’s not easily influenced or changed by the government. It’s like a special kind of money that operates independently, separate from the usual rules.

People often trade cryptocurrencies on decentralized exchanges and use them to purchase goods and services. Cryptocurrencies are also often volatile, meaning their prices can fluctuate significantly fast.

Key characteristics of cryptocurrencies 

Here are three essential characteristics of cryptocurrency, explained in simpler terms:

  • Decentralization: Cryptocurrency is not controlled by any central authority, like a government or a bank. It operates on a decentralized network, which means no single person or organization has complete control over it.
  • Security: Cryptocurrency uses advanced cryptography to secure transactions and control the creation of new units. This makes it very difficult for anyone to hack or manipulate the system.
  • Transparency: Cryptocurrency transactions are recorded on a public ledger called the blockchain. This ledger is visible to everyone in the network, ensuring transparency and accountability.

» Additional info: What is a crypto token?

How many cryptocurrencies are there? 

According to, 24,864 cryptocurrencies are available on the market, with a total capitalization of 1.1 trillion as of May 2023.  

It’s important to note that not all cryptocurrencies are widely recognized or widely used, and their value and acceptance can vary significantly.  Over 90% of the market is formed by 100 top cryptos. 

The most well-known and widely used cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, the first to be created. However, many other cryptocurrencies, often called “altcoins,” have emerged. Some popular altcoins include Ethereum, Ripple, Cardano, Polygon, and Solana

Different cryptocurrency types or categories 

Each cryptocurrency has unique features and purposes, varying in technology, goals, and adoption. 

Here are some different types or categories of cryptocurrencies based on their primary use cases:

  • Payment cryptocurrencies: These are cryptocurrencies designed to be used as a form of payment for goods and services. Bitcoin and Litecoin are examples of payment cryptocurrencies.
  • Utility cryptocurrencies: These cryptocurrencies serve a specific purpose within a particular blockchain or platform. They are used to access certain features, services, or applications. Examples include Ethereum (used for executing smart contracts on the Ethereum network) and Binance Coin (used for transaction fees and participating in the Binance ecosystem).
  • Stablecoins: Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that aim to maintain a stable value by being pegged to an external asset, such as a fiat currency like the US dollar. Tether (USDT) and USD Coin (USDC) are examples of stablecoins.
  • Governance cryptocurrencies: These cryptocurrencies grant holders the right to participate in decision-making processes regarding the development and governance of a blockchain or platform. Examples include Tezos (XTZ) and Maker (MKR token of MakerDAO).
  • Decentralized Finance (DeFi) cryptocurrencies: DeFi cryptocurrencies are used in decentralized financial applications that aim to provide traditional financial services like lending, borrowing, and trading without intermediaries. Examples include Uniswap (UNI) and Aave (AAVE).
  • Gaming crypto and Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT): These cryptocurrencies are designed for use within gaming platforms and NFT marketplaces. Examples include Enjin Coin (ENJ) for in-game assets and Flow (FLOW) for NFT collectibles.
  • Privacy cryptocurrencies: These cryptocurrencies prioritize privacy and aim to provide enhanced anonymity for users. Monero (XMR) and Zcash (ZEC) are examples of privacy-focused cryptocurrencies.

Note: The above list represents just some popular crypto categories. The cryptocurrency landscape constantly evolves, and new classes and types may emerge as technology and innovation progress.

How are cryptocurrencies created? 

The cryptocurrency market is constantly evolving, with new cryptocurrencies being created and existing ones gaining or losing popularity. 

Mining process 

Cryptocurrencies are digital assets generated through a process called “mining.” In cryptocurrency mining, miners are required to solve complex mathematical puzzles with computer systems to receive rewards in the form of cryptocurrency. 

The mining process is essential to the security and validity of most cryptocurrencies, as it verifies transactions and prevents double-spending. 

Since Bitcoin, the most well-known cryptocurrency, was created in 2009, cryptocurrency mining has become increasingly popular as more and more people look for ways to invest in this unique asset class. 

Cryptocurrency mining is a complex and resource-intensive process, but it is crucial to the functioning of many digital asset systems.

How does cryptocurrency work?

It’s important to note that the below steps provide a simplified overview of how cryptocurrency works. 

How cryptocurrencies operate

Each cryptocurrency may have its unique features, protocols, and consensus mechanisms. Additionally, cryptocurrency trading and investing involve additional aspects, such as exchanges and market dynamics, that go beyond the essential workings of the technology itself.

Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how cryptocurrency works in simple terms:

Step 1: Blockchain technology

Cryptocurrencies use blockchain technology like a digital ledger or record book. The blockchain is a decentralized network of computers, known as nodes, that collectively maintain and update the ledger. Each transaction made with a cryptocurrency is recorded as a “block” of information on the blockchain.

Step 2: Transaction initiation

You initiate a transaction when you want to send cryptocurrency to someone else. You provide the recipient’s wallet address (similar to a bank account number) and the amount of cryptocurrency you want to send.

Step 3: Transaction verification

Miners on the blockchain network verify the transaction. They confirm that you have sufficient funds to make the transaction and ensure it is valid and not fraudulent. This verification process typically involves multiple computers on the network reaching a consensus or agreement.

Step 4: Adding the transaction to the blockchain

Once the transaction is verified, it is added as a new block to the blockchain. This block contains information about the transaction, such as the sender, recipient, and the amount of cryptocurrency transferred. Once added, the trade becomes a permanent part of the blockchain and cannot be easily altered.

Step 5: Network consensus

To maintain the security and integrity of the blockchain, the network relies on a consensus mechanism. This mechanism ensures that all nodes in the network agree on the validity of transactions and the state of the blockchain. The most common consensus mechanism in cryptocurrencies is Proof of Work (PoW) or Proof of Stake (PoS).

Step 6: Digital wallets and keys

To store and manage your cryptocurrency, you need a digital wallet. Wallets can be software-based (on your computer or smartphone) or hardware-based (a physical device). Wallets generate a pair of cryptographic keys: a public key, shared with others for receiving funds, and a private key, which you keep secret and use to sign transactions.

Step 7: Security and cryptography

Cryptocurrencies use cryptography to secure transactions and control the creation of new units. Cryptography involves using mathematical algorithms and codes to protect information and ensure that only the intended parties can access and verify transactions.

Pros and cons of cryptocurrency

There are many pros and cons of cryptocurrencies. Let’s take a look at the most important ones. 


These are some of the essential cryptocurrency advantages:

  • Transactions are fast and secure: Cryptocurrency transactions are completed quickly and securely without needing a third party, such as a bank or financial institution.
  • Fees are low or nonexistent: Cryptocurrency transactions often have low or absent costs. This contrasts traditional methods such as wire transfers, which usually incur significant expenses.
  • Anonymity: Cryptocurrency users can remain anonymous if they choose to do so. This contrasts traditional methods such as credit cards, which require the user’s name and personal information.
  • Decentralization: Cryptocurrencies are decentralized, not subject to government or financial institution control. This decentralization offers increased security and flexibility.


Cryptocurrency has been hailed as a revolutionary new way of conducting transactions, but it also has its share of drawbacks:

  • Cryptocurrency is incredibly volatile: Prices can fluctuate wildly from one day to the next. This makes it difficult to use cryptocurrency as a reliable store of value or for large purchases where prices could drop significantly before the transaction is completed. 
  • Cryptocurrency is mainly unregulated: Exchanges have lost millions of dollars worth of digital currency in many high-profile hacks. This lack of regulation makes it difficult to recover funds if stolen, as there is no central authority to appeal to. 
  • There needs to be more infrastructure and support for its use: Many businesses are still reluctant to accept cryptocurrency as payment, which limits its utility.

What can you buy with cryptocurrency?

A growing number of businesses are willing to accept cryptocurrency as payment. and Virgin Galactic are the few companies that accept Bitcoin in exchange for their services or goods. 

However, there are many indirect ways to use cryptocurrency to make purchases. For example, many online retailers such as and now accept Bitcoin as payment through third-party processors such as BitPay and Coinbase. 

As cryptocurrency becomes more widely accepted, its purchasing power will likely grow.

Is cryptocurrency safe?

Cryptocurrency has recently gained popularity, but many people still need to learn to invest. After all, cryptocurrency is an entirely digital asset, and it can be challenging to wrap your head around investing in something that doesn’t have a physical form.

Additionally, there have been many high-profile hacks where people have lost their entire investments. For instance, the DAO project was hacked for $50 million in 2016.

So, is cryptocurrency safe? The answer is complicated. On the one hand, cryptocurrency is more secure than traditional currency because of blockchain technology, making it virtually impossible to counterfeit. 

On the other hand, cryptocurrency is less regulated than traditional currency, which means more potential for fraud and scams. Ultimately, whether or not cryptocurrency is safe depends on how you choose to use it. 

If you’re careful and do your research, you can safely invest in cryptocurrency. However, if you’re careless or inexperienced, you could lose everything.

Should you invest in cryptocurrency?

Some experts believe cryptocurrency will eventually replace traditional currency, while others worry about its volatility. So, should you invest in cryptocurrency? Only you can answer that question, but there are a few things to consider before deciding. 

First, do your research and understand how cryptocurrency works. Then, consider your investment goals and risk tolerance. Finally, remember that cryptocurrency is a relatively new asset class, so expect fluctuating prices.

The bottom line

Cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography to secure transactions and control new unit creation. Cryptocurrencies are decentralized and not subject to government or financial institution control. 

This independence makes cryptocurrency an attractive option for some investors and users. The advantages and disadvantages of cryptocurrency vary depending on the individual coin and its use case. 

Overall, cryptocurrency represents an exciting investment opportunity with the potential for high returns but carries significant risk.

Article by
Artem Minaev