Princeton University together with Coursera is offering a free series of lectures on Bitcoin, an electronic “cryptocurrency.” Anyone can take the online course, which consists of a series of 11 video lectures, chapters from a textbook, and exercises, starting Friday, September 4.
“Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies” will last six weeks and be taught by professors Arvind Narayanan, Joseph Bonneau, and Edward Felten from Princeton and Andrew Miller from the University of Maryland.
Bitcoin is an electronic payment system in which every transaction is recorded over the Internet in a decentralized “peer to peer” record called the blockchain. Computers that contribute to keeping track of the blockchain are rewarded by “mining” new bitcoins for the computer owner to use. Anyone who wants bitcoins can install a program and mine for them, or buy them on a bitcoin exchange market. The price of bitcoins fluctuates wildly, with the value having reached a high of about $500 and a low of about $170 this year.
Although bitcoins themselves are encrypted and theoretically secure, Bitcoin exchanges where users trade coins have been plagued by massive theft and hacking attacks. In 2014, Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange in the world, shut down and reported that $450 million worth of its users’ bitcoins had been stolen by hackers.
A small number of merchants with online stores and a handful of brick-and-mortar establishments around the world accept Bitcoins as payment. Because the cyber-currency allows for anonymous transactions, it is reportedly popular on the “darknet” for buying drugs and illegal services.
The course is aimed at a technically skilled audience.