Bitcoins: From Cypherpunk to Silk Road, a very brief history

Last week the FBI seized approximately £2.2m worth of the digital currency Bitcoin during the arrest of suspected Silk Road website administrator Ross Ulbricht. Silk Road was primarily used for purchasing illegal drugs. The website only accepted payments in Bitcoins in order to maintain buyers' and sellers' anonymity. There are rumours it was also used for purchasing illegal weapons and to hire computer hacking experts.

2013 has seen a series of Bitcoin stories, including the discovery of a Bitcoin Ponzi scheme. In August 'Bitcoin' was added to the Oxford Dictionary. But where has this digital currency come from?

In the 1990s, cypherpunks (Julian Assange et al) developed openly available security software for the first time. They paved the way for secure exchange of money outside the traditional banking infrastructures, particularly the creation of online only cryptocurrencies. The software for creating and exchanging Bitcoins was published by an anonymous programmer in 2008. Here is an infographic charting how the currency made its way from the preserve of the anarchist geeks to the mainstream. 

For more on Pirate Monies, check out our resources page or the round-up of our event on digital finance.


Jessica Bland

Jessica Bland

Jessica Bland

Principal Researcher in Futures

Jessica was a principal researcher in the Policy and Research team. She explored how Nesta could best support responsible development of disruptive technology. She organised Hot Topics…

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