Properties of cryptocurrencies gave them popularity in applications such as a safe haven in banking crises and means of payment, which also led to the cryptocurrency use in controversial settings in the form of online black markets, such as Silk Road.[66] The original Silk Road was shut down in October 2013 and there have been two more versions in use since then. In the year following the initial shutdown of Silk Road, the number of prominent dark markets increased from four to twelve, while the amount of drug listings increased from 18,000 to 32,000.[66]
You don‘t need to understand details about SHA 256. It‘s only important you know that it can be the basis of a cryptologic puzzle the miners compete to solve. After finding a solution, a miner can build a block and add it to the blockchain. As an incentive, he has the right to add a so-called coinbase transaction that gives him a specific number of Bitcoins. This is the only way to create valid Bitcoins.

There is also an Ethereum-based ETF pending regulatory review, and many such products are likely to follow. For now, there are just a few options available. For example, ticker symbol GBTC is one such security listed on the US-based OTC Markets Exchange, and is available at major online brokerages such as Fidelity, providing stock market investors a way to gain exposure to Bitcoin without buying the underlying or using a derivative.
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Active traders looking to speculate on Bitcoin over the short or medium term may find that trading CFD/derivatives on Bitcoin using an online forex broker will provide them with 24hour trading, potentially lower margin, and the ability to go either long or short. Because of counter-party risk, choosing a broker is just as important as finding one with the best trading tools or commission rates.
The term altcoin has various similar definitions. Stephanie Yang of The Wall Street Journal defined altcoins as "alternative digital currencies,"[20] while Paul Vigna, also of The Wall Street Journal, described altcoins as alternative versions of bitcoin.[21] Aaron Hankins of the MarketWatch refers to any cryptocurrencies other than bitcoin as altcoins.[22]