The definition of a cryptocurrency is ‘a form of digital currency based on blockchain and protected by cryptography’. In general, money can be physical and tangible, as in the case of the banknotes and coins we keep in our wallets. However, it can also be entirely digital like cryptocurrencies. One should not confuse cryptocurrencies with fiat currencies that can be exchanged virtually: our online bank accounts can transfer money digitally but this always involves fiat. However, coins, a type of cryptocurrency, share the properties of money: they are medium of exchange, store of value and unit of account.

Cryptocurrencies in a nutshell, unlike all other currencies, are not issued by governments but by private individuals via an algorithm. Cryptocurrencies are currencies generated and managed by mathematical functions and therefore not susceptible to arbitrary decisions. Algorithms ensure transparency and impartiality. It follows that cryptocurrencies are peer-to-peer: they do not require intermediaries but are sent from ‘peer’ to ‘peer’, i.e. they are exchanged between participants in the same network. Cryptocurrencies, in fact, can be exchanged between users through the payment of small fees and no third-party entities are needed. Cryptocurrencies are therefore independent of governments and banks: this makes them global, as do their economic systems, i.e. without geographical or legal borders. Developing cryptocurrencies is possible thanks to the blockchain, a distributed digital ledger on a decentralised network of nodes. 

The etymology of cryptocurrency refers to the technology on which it is based, namely cryptography. This guarantees the privacy of users and the security of the blockchain in which all transaction data is transcribed. Specifically, the cryptography that is used by cryptocurrencies is called public key cryptography. 

The origin of cryptocurrencies dates back to the late 1990s, during which time the idea of electronic and anonymous crypto-based currencies was developed. Although earlier experiments existed, the first truly adopted and recognised cryptocurrency was only developed in 2009: Bitcoin. From this year onwards, many other cryptocurrencies with different characteristics and functions have emerged; these have been dubbed ‘altcoins’, or ‘alternative coins’, compared to Bitcoin as the first standard. The best known of the altcoins is ether (ETH), the coin on the Ethereum blockchain, second to Bitcoin in market cap.

Cryptocurrencies can be of two types: coin or token, which are distinguished by the nature of the link to the blockchain on which they are based. Indeed, a coin is a cryptocurrency native to a blockchain, while a token is based on an existing blockchain created by a third party. Another criterion for categorising cryptocurrencies is the consensus mechanism used by their blockchain, mainly Proof-of-Work or Proof-of-Stake.

Correlated words


Cashback involves a partial reimbursement of funds spent in a transaction.


Third historical phase of the web, during which the economic and technological system of the internet changes, thanks to the tools offered by blockchain.


The longest-lived cryptocurrency on the market and the first application of blockchain.

Wallet address

The string of characters that identifies a cryptocurrency wallet.


Cryptocurrencies pegged to the price of a stable asset such as a fiat currency or precious metal.


Managing one's wallet by knowing its private key

White Paper

Technical and informative document used by cryptocurrency projects to present their technological proposal.


Software that allows you to send, receive and store your cryptocurrencies.

Virtual Currency

Term used in legislation to define cryptocurrencies.

Fiat Currency

Legal tender, i.e. the official currency adopted by a government.


Digital unit of value based on a third-party protocol.

Satoshi Nakamoto

The pseudonym used by the creator or group of developers of Bitcoin.


Open-source software is public and available for anyone to reuse.


Identity verification procedure required by European regulations for exchanges.

Hard Fork

A division of the blockchain due to the incompatibility of the new version of the protocol with the previous one.

Hot Wallet

A cryptocurrency wallet connected to the internet.


The halving of the reward given to miners for each validation, every 4 years.


A sector that combines finance and technology, where companies develop technologically innovative financial services.


The branch of computer science that studies secure communication methods.


A cryptocurrency that is natively based on its blockchain

Public Key

Cryptographic code that identifies a wallet on the blockchain.

Private Key

Cryptographic code that gives access to a wallet.


Tools that simplify the development of apps and web services.


Cryptocurrencies that followed Bitcoin as alternative solutions.


Anti-money laundering regulations prevent illegal activities on centralised exchanges.


The procedure applied to solve a problem.


Services facilitating the purchase and sale of digital assets based on daily market prices.

Financial Market

The financial market is a regulated space where financial securities can be bought and sold.

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