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Legitimate miners and buyers need to incur substantial production and energy costs, or have to pay the going exchange rates for bitcoins.

Criminal miners pay virtually nothing for its production of new coins, outsourcing the work to hapless victim machines all over the world. Criminal bitcoin thieves don't incur the exchange rate fee for acquisition of bitcoins. They just 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 free from regulation (for the moment), allows for completely anonymous ownership, and is both highly profitable and nearly free to produce (if you are willing to break the law).

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There's no doubt the bitcoin has staying power, but whether that is only among criminals (and those who wish to traffic together, such as the Silk Road drug sellers and clients ), or if it is going to become a valuable trading commodity for the rest of us is unclear.

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My information to law enforcement is simple: follow the bitcoin. There's no doubt that more and more criminals will be using bitcoin to generate gain as well as cover their tracks. Whenever you find a stash of bitcoin and have judicial permission to follow the footprints, do this.

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While bitcoin use is not limited to criminals, there's an undeniably high correlation between bitcoin ownership and criminal activity. Especially since bitcoins are becoming increasingly more profitable to criminal malware seeders and botnet operators while concurrently becoming ever less profitable for traders that are valid.

Here is the key take-away: bitcoins are becoming the"national currency" of criminals the world over and are becoming an increasingly poor investment for valid miners.

Cryptocurrency mining is painstaking, expensive, and only sporadically rewarding. Nonetheless, mining includes a magnetic attraction for many investors interested in cryptocurrency. This may be because entrepreneurial types see mining as pennies from heaven, like California gold prospectors in 1848. And if you are technologically inclined, why not take action

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Well, before you invest time and equipment, browse this explainer to find out whether mining is for you. We'll focus primarily on Bitcoin. (Related: How Bitcoin Works and our useful infographic, What's Bitcoin)

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By mining, you can earn cryptocurrency without having to put down money to it. Nevertheless, you certainly don't have to become a miner to own crypto.   You can even purchase crypto using fiat currency (USD, EUR, JPY, etc); you can trade it on an exchange like Bitstamp using other crypto (instance: Using Ethereum or NEO to buy Bitcoin); you even can earn it by playing video games or by publishing blogposts on platforms that 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 his response new cryptocurrency into circulation. In other words, miners are basically"minting" currency. For instance, as of the time of writing this bit, there were about 17 million Bitcoin in circulation.

In the absence of miners, Bitcoin would nevertheless exist and be usable, but there would never be any additional Bitcoin. There will come a time when Bitcoin mining ends; each the Bitcoin Protocol, the number of Bitcoin is going to be capped at 21 million. (Related reading: What Happens to Bitcoin After All 21 Million are Mined).

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Besides the short-term Bitcoin payoff, being a miner can provide you"voting" power when changes are suggested in the Bitcoin protocol. In other words, an effective miner has influence on the decision-making process on such matters as  forking.

Bitcoin are mined in units called"blocks." As of the time of writing, the reward for completing a cube is 12.5 Bitcoin. At today's cost of approximately $10,000 per Bitcoin, this means you'd earn (12.5 x 10,000)$125,000.

When Bitcoin was mined in 2009, mining one block would earn you 50 BTC. In 2012, this was halved to 25 BTC. In 2016, this was halved to the current level 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 tabs on precisely when these halvings will happen, then you can consult the Bitcoin Clock, which upgrades this information in real time.

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Miners are getting paid for their work as auditors. They're doing the work of verifying preceding Bitcoin transactions. This convention is meant to maintain Bitcoin users honest, and was conceived by Bitcoin's founder, Satoshi Nakamoto. By verifying transactions, miners are helping prevent the"double-spending problem."

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