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Bitcoin’s Security and Hash Rate Explained

Bitcoin’s Security and Hash Rate Explained
As the Bitcoin hash rate reaches new all-time highs, there’s never been a better time to discuss blockchain security and its relation to the hashing power and the Proof of Work (PoW) that feed the network. The Bitcoin system is based on a form of decentralized trust, heavily relying on cryptography. This makes its blockchain highly secure and able to be used for financial transactions and other operations requiring a trustless ledger.
Far from popular belief, cryptography dates back to thousands of years ago. The same root of the word encryption — crypt — comes from the Greek word ‘kryptos’, meaning hidden or secret. Indeed, humans have always wanted to keep some information private. The Assyrians, the Chinese, the Romans, and the Greeks, they all tried over the centuries to conceal some information like trade deals or manufacturing secrets by using symbols or ciphers carved in stone or leather. In 1900 BC, Egyptians used hieroglyphics and experts often refer to them as the first example of cryptography.
Back to our days, Bitcoin uses cryptographic technologies such as:
  1. Cryptographic hash functions (i.e. SHA-256 and RIPEMD-160)
  2. Public Key Cryptography (i.e. ECDSA — the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm)
While Public Key Cryptography, bitcoin addresses, and digital signatures are used to provide ownership of bitcoins, the SHA-256 hash function is used to verify data and block integrity and to establish the chronological order of the blockchain. A cryptographic hash function is a mathematical function that verifies the integrity of data by transforming it into a unique unidentifiable code.
Here is a graphic example to make things more clear:

– Extract from the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in Digital Currencies at the University of Nicosia.
Furthermore, hash functions are used as part of the PoW algorithm, which is a prominent part of the Bitcoin mining algorithm and this is what is of more interest to understand the security of the network. Mining creates new bitcoins in each block, almost like a central bank printing new money and creates trust by ensuring that transactions are confirmed only when enough computational power is devoted to the block that contains them. More blocks mean more computation, which means more trust.
With PoW, miners compete against each other to complete transactions on the network and get rewarded. Basically they need to solve a complicated mathematical puzzle and a possibility to easily prove the solution. The more hashing power, the higher the chance to resolve the puzzle and therefore perform the proof of work. In more simple words, bitcoins exist thanks to a peer to peer network that helps validate transactions in the ledger and provides enough trust to avoid that a third party is involved in the process. It also exists because miners give it life by resolving that computational puzzle, through the mining reward incentive they are receiving.
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