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Legitimate miners and buyers need to incur substantial production and energy expenses, or have to pay the going exchange rates for bitcoins.
Criminal miners pay nearly nothing for the production of new coins, outsourcing the work to hapless victim machines all over the world. Criminal bitcoin thieves don't incur the exchange rate cost for acquisition of bitcoins. They simply rely on hacking and malware to siphon bitcoin wallets from law-abiding owners.
What we've got here, then, is a commodity (I hesitate to call it a currency) that has a current value, is absolutely free of regulation (for the moment), allows for completely anonymous ownership, and is both highly rewarding and nearly free to produce (if you are willing to break the law).
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There's no doubt that bitcoin has staying power, but whether that's only among criminals (and those who would like to traffic together, such as the Silk Road drug sellers and customers), or whether it will become a valuable trading commodity for the rest of us is unclear.
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My advice to law enforcement is easy: follow the bitcoin. There is no doubt that more and more criminals will be using bitcoin to generate gain as well as pay their tracks. Whenever you find a stash of bitcoin and possess judicial permission to follow the footprints, do so.
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While bitcoin usage is not limited to criminals, there is an undeniably large correlation between bitcoin ownership and criminal activity. Notably since bitcoins are becoming every more profitable to criminal malware seeders and botnet operators while concurrently becoming ever less rewarding for legitimate traders.
Here's the vital take-away: bitcoins are becoming the most"national currency" of criminals the world over and are becoming an increasingly inadequate investment for valid miners.
Cryptocurrency mining is painstaking, expensive, and only sporadically rewarding. Nonetheless, mining includes a magnetic draw for many investors interested in cryptocurrency. This may be because entrepreneurial forms see mining as pennies from heaven, like California gold prospectors in 1848. And If You're technologically inclined, why not do it
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Before you invest time and equipment, browse this explainer to see whether mining is for you. We will focus mostly on Bitcoin. (Related: How Bitcoin Works and our useful infographic, What is Bitcoin)
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By mining, you can earn cryptocurrency without having to put down money to it. That said, you certainly don't have to become a miner to own crypto. You can also purchase crypto using fiat currency (USD, EUR, JPY, etc); you can exchange it on an exchange such as Bitstamp using other crypto (example: Using Ethereum or NEO to buy Bitcoin); you even can earn it by playing video games or even read this post here simply by publishing blogposts on platforms which cover its consumers in crypto.
In addition to lining the pockets of miners, mining serves a second and vital purpose: It is the only way to release new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are essentially"minting" currency. For instance, at the time of writing this bit, there were approximately 17 million Bitcoin in circulation.
In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would still exist and be usable, but there might never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; per the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin will be capped at 21 million. (Associated reading: What Happens Bitcoin After All 21 Million are Mined).
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Aside from the short-term Bitcoin payoff, being a miner can give you"voting" electricity when changes are suggested in the Bitcoin protocol. In other words, an effective miner has influence on the decision-making procedure on such issues as forking.
Bitcoin are mined in units called"blocks." At this time of writing, the reward for completing a block is 12.5 Bitcoin. At today's cost of about $10,000 each Bitcoin, this means you'd earn (12.5 x 10,000)$125,000.
When Bitcoin was first mined in 2009, mining one block would earn you 50 BTC. In 2012, this was halved to 25 BTC. In 2016, this was halved into the current degree of 12.5 BTC. In 2020 or so, the payoff size will be halved again to 6.25 BTC.
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If you want to keep track of precisely when these halvings will occur, then you can consult with the Bitcoin Clock, which updates this information in real time.
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Miners are getting paid for their work as auditors. They are doing the work of verifying preceding Bitcoin transactions. This convention is meant to keep Bitcoin users honest, and has been conceived by Bitcoin's founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. By verifying transactions, miners are helping prevent the"double-spending problem."