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A cryptocurrency (or crypto currency) is a medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of new units. Cryptocurrencies are a subset of alternative currencies, or specifically of digital currencies. Bitcoin became the first decentralized cryptocurrency in 2009. Since then, numerous cryptocurrencies have been created. These are frequently called altcoins, as contraction of bitcoin alternative.
Cryptocurrency is produced by the entire cryptocurrency system collectively, at a rate which is defined when the system is created and publicly known. In centralized banking and economic systems such as the Federal Reserve System, corporate boards or governments control the supply of currency by printing units of fiat money or demanding additions to digital banking ledgers. However, companies or governments cannot produce units of cryptocurrency and as such, have not so far provided backing for other firms, banks or corporate entities which hold asset value measured in a decentralized cryptocurrency. The underlying technical system upon which all cryptocurrencies are now based was created by the group or individual known as Satoshi Nakamoto.
As of March 2015, hundreds of cryptocurrency specifications exist; most are similar to and derived from the first fully implemented decentralized cryptocurrency, bitcoin. Within cryptocurrency systems the safety, integrity and balance of ledgers is maintained by a community of mutually distrustful parties referred to as miners: members of the general public using their computers to help validate and timestamp transactions adding them to the ledger in accordance with a particular timestamping scheme.
Most cryptocurrencies are designed to gradually decrease production of currency, placing an ultimate cap on the total amount of currency that will ever be in circulation. This can mimic the scarcity (and value) of precious metals and avoid hyperinflation. Compared with ordinary currencies held by financial institutions or kept as cash on hand, cryptocurrencies are less susceptible to seizure by law enforcement.