Breaking: Bitcoins legalised in Japan – legal framework and tax treatment

The Japanese have brought into force a new legislation treating digital currency as a legal payment method, from the beginning (1 April 2017) of this fiscal year. Bitcoins are now legal tender in Japan and are at par with other fiat currencies. This has been made possible by the passing of a new law called the Virtual Currency Act by the Diet. The Financial Services Agency announced that it is going to treat cryptocurrencies as legal tender from April 1st, 2017.

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Value of bitcoins; RBI on bitcoin; legality of bitcoin transactions in India

Bitcoins are numbers you can trade with. People would be ready to exchange goods and services with bitcoins as they value the bitcoin numbers. Compared to currency which is made out of thin air by a central bank, bitcoins and other digital tokens, require massive computational power to generate, and have a base in global energy prices.

This idea of using a set of protocol to transact and create new bitcoins securely was published by an Anonymous author using the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto. The paper was titled: Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System by Satoshi Nakamoto

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Canadian Securities Law (OSC statement) on Distributed Ledger Technologies (blockchain)

The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) put up a press release on Wednesday (March 8th) containing cautionary advice against use of Distributed Ledger Technology or commonly the blockchain.1

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How blockchain is changing governance: Permissioned Blockchain

Permissioned blockchain arose out of the need of the public to interfere in private transactions. It is fundamentally the same concept as with the blockchain technology I previously wrote on. While the original blockchain allows all members to transact and verify transactions, in permissioned blockchains, the right to verify transactions is available only to a permissioned few.

This model is all set to revolutionise e-governance across the globe.

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How blockchain is changing the finance industry: Triple Entry Accounting

The blockchain technology brings in yet another revelation, this time in accounting principles. Enter the Triple Entry Accounting system. Compared to the traditional double entry accounting, triple entry brings in another dimension in the accounting process. In this article we will first clarify what is double entry accounting and how blockchain technology introduces the triple entry accounting.

To gain a better understanding of this article, I recommend you to go through the previous articles on:

Asymmetric Cryptography, Public Key, Private Key and the RSA Algorithm

Digital signatures? Signing and verification – Relevant Indian Laws

Bitcoins, cryptocurrency and the blockchain – what is so different than fiat money?

How blockchain is changing the legal industry: Smart Contracts


Double Entry systems

Modern accounting originated about 500 years ago in 1494 through Luca Paciolo. Paciolo was a close aide of Leonardo Da Vinci and a Franciscan by religious order. Paciolo developed an accounting equation which in its simplicity means:

Assets = Liabilities + Equity
– Luca Paciolo

In other words for every transaction there has to be a credit and debit. Two accounting books need to be maintained for every transaction. At the end of a financial year the accounting procedure would make sure the debit balances the credit. Any mismatch in the two ledgers would tell the managers that they should not trust their own books.

Double Entry Bookkeeping or double entry accounting (‘DEA’) meant this system of maintaining two books for every transaction. It marked the Renaissance in accounting procedure compared to earlier, when only one ledger maintained accounts under the single entry system. Accountants needed to go through the entire accounting period counting every transaction to ascertain accuracy. DEA did away with this trouble, if the debit and credit balances matched it meant proper accounting.


The issue of ‘trust’

However, even with the introduction of DEA the quagmire of human accountability did not seem to resolve. Although the DEA kept company managers confident about their own books, outside stakeholders, such as investors, lenders and the state could not still trust the company’s books. Why would they? It was very easy to make bogus entries and still keep the debit and credit balanced.

PwC Satyam scam (7800 crore in 2009), five independent auditors, all affiliates of PwC, were guilty of collusion.1

DEA saw the appointment of a so called ‘independent auditor’. The company appoints and pays the auditor as a legal requirement, and he makes sure that the accounting is proper for the benefit of the stakeholders. The auditor donned the role of an independent guarantor of financial information.

If a company has prepared inaccurate financial statements and has a good story to support them, it becomes very difficult for auditors to detect the misstatements (even if the auditors were not collusive).

A big issue in law of agency arise out of this: Do auditors work for the company who appoints and pays them or for the outside stakeholders who rely on their integrity in order to make decisions?

Even if auditors do their work with full integrity, the amount of accounting ranges from obscene to astronomical. The accounting bill in itself causes a displacement of lakhs of rupees in even a medium sized enterprise.

All of these elements together places a lot of ‘trust’ in the company and the auditor. Consequently, it often proves to be detrimental to the general public.


Enter the Triple Entry Accounting system

The global popularity and massive circulation of bitcoins and the blockchain enabled technologies is solely because of this new method of accounting. New vistas have opened in trade both domestic and international. The element of trust is surgically being discarded.

In comparison to the traditional two columns maintained in the DEA, the triple entry accounting (‘TEA’) requires managing a third column. In the coming paragraphs I will explain the job of this third column.


The blockchain network

It is important at this juncture to understand how the bitcoin and blockchain works. I would recommend you to go through my earlier post on What are bitcoins / cryptocurrency / blockchain – what is so different than fiat money?

In jargon-free simple terms bitcoins are numbers stored on a public database. One can send bitcoins to another by digitally signing the transaction. Digital signatures ascertain authenticity of the sender’s identity. Furthermore, every transaction is stored as an immutable block in a linear chronological fashion called the blockchain. Finally, reading the blockchain would ascertain who owns how much bitcoins.


The third column

Remember how the DEA is a representation of two accounts? Now take these two accounts and give them a wallet address. Every movement of value debits one wallet and credits another. The account sending the value digitally signs the transaction, and this digital signature is stored in the third column. Consequently, the third column forms the blockchain and the integrity of every transaction is ascertained by reading the blockchain.


More Security

If you know about digital signatures and how they work,2 you would understand the role of a Digital Signature Certificate Authority (‘DSCA’).

The job of the authority is to maintain a public database of all public keys or encryption keys of digital signatures along with their legally identified owner. To effect this, the state legally enables only the DSCA to issue digital signature certificates.

All transactions which happen on the TEA requires a public key and a private key to digitally sign the transaction, the DSCA may now verify the identity of the signatory every time.

All of it creates an undeniable, immutable and future proof record of transactions. No matter how voluminous the transactions of a company have been, reading the very last record on a blockchain based TEA system would draw a clear picture every time.


Legal validity of Triple Entry Accounting

In India the Companies (Indian Accounting Standards) Rules, 2015 specify accounting standards. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs issued G.S.R. 111(E) making the Indian Accounting Standards (Ind AS) a mandate to be followed by various classes of companies. The Ind AS in turn heavily relies on Double Entry Accounting.

While, no country has made Triple Entry Accounting a mandate. Reports of Credit Suisse in 2016 on Blockchain3 and Delloite 4 explain and show how blockchain can be used in financial auditing through the TEA. They also place reliance on the current ongoing practices at the Big4 to show their future applicability.

Seems like it is only a matter of time nations across the world appreciate the Big4 practices and accord legal recognition to it.

How blockchain is changing the legal industry: Smart Contracts

A smart contract is a self-regulated software which has it’s own impeccable sense of time, it is used to send automated electronic messages, either periodically or conditionally.

Periods are based on specific intervals of time and conditions are reference to objective facts around us. The electronic messages sent are transactional in nature which change account balances of two or more parties.

The software takes in conditions and functions in a high level programming language and translates them into a machine-readable form called bytecode. This bytecode can then be permanently stored in a read-only form called a block. The blocks are further stored in a chronological order on a decentralised database system called a blockchain.

You can read more about What are bitcoins / cryptocurrency / blockchain – what is so different than fiat money? To get a better idea about the blockchain and its application on bitcoin.


Why smart contracts?

For a moment let’s understand why would we ever want to enter a contract. It can be two reasons out of many others.
Either, because we respect law and want to keep our transactions publicly recorded,
or, we clarify our intentions through the contract and enter relations which benefit us.

If you chose the latter, it is because the basis of all contracts is not in law itself or any social validation. Certainly, no one cares about the legality or the illegality of the contracts they enter. What interests us in every contract is the transfer of value from one person to another. This transfer of value (i.e. consideration) from one to the other is so important and intrinsic in even legal relations that the lack of it renders a contract void, and the mere presence of it can turn an agreement into a contract.1


Because it is automatic!

In smart contracts, the software automatically executes a transaction without any requirement of manual enforcement. The transaction is either made to an account directly or to an escrow account created specifically for the transaction. The advantage of smart contracts is that it will definitely be executed irrespective of it being legal or illegal.

Smart contracts have a self-executing deterministic nature. There is no way out of a contract, it is mathematically impossible to breach a contract. Even efficient breach is not allowed. Due to this deterministic nature of smart contracts there would be no requirement of a third party!

Now if contracts could be given a life of their own in which they automatically execute, who would not want this panacea of legal disputes?


Because it has every element of pure capitalism

The primary reason behind the massive success of smart contracts is the fact that the the blockchain network provides for a complete ecosystem of a capitalist nation, including banking, a transparent marketplace, a secure and private messaging system and infinite identities.


Because it does not require your trust

We would soon be taking the word trust out of businesses. Businesses fail because of trust issues, a lot of enterprises never scale because of lack of trust.

The only bane of capitalism was the word ‘trust’. Internet had already done away with a lot of third party elements, independent parties felt more confident to make peer-to-peer transactions. But still, we always needed a central bank to approve of our transactions.

Blockchain having its own currency system does not require a bank to maintain our accounts or do our transactions. The exchange of currency and accounting would be totally done according to the code in the software. Gone would be the days when fractional reserve banking would be used to create an unlimited source of magic money.

Smart contract systems would bring in a whole lot of confidence by providing for autonomy. Any middleman be it a book publisher, music distributor, cab aggregator or a broker, would have to find greener pastures. Transaction costs would drastically reduce giving us a better half of the 21st century.


But why do I trust the system and the software?

You do not have to trust the system and the software. Because there is no system and software!

Blockchain is not primarily a software, it is an idea. There is no proprietary system or software which claims to have built the blockchain, neither has a patent been claimed. This idea was recorded in an anonymous research paper titled: Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System by Satoshi Nakamoto2 and widely publicised for people and businesses to learn and implement. It is a mathematical concept which like mathematics itself is undeniable logic.

You are free to make your own software on this idea and still connect with the global network. Hire a developer and order your software now!

Thousands of corporations across the world have implemented their own versions of this idea to hold internal transactions, specifically transactions which needed to be at arm’s length.

For others, there were some fast moving developers in this domain, and the open-source softwares they have developed are really popular as of now. It is better to just download a free open-source version of the most popular blockchain network softwares, it will save a lot of costs.

If you still have an issue downloading an open source blockchain software, you need to understand that these open-source resources are just like academic research papers continuously being scrutinised and challenged. If one developer builds something, thousands of others would develop on it and invest millions of man hours to perfect it. At this stage, you would not be trusting the software or the underlying code, you would be trusting humanity and mathematics.

Even after all of that, a smart contract is actually a software on its own, the blockchain system has no say in what a smart contract can do or not do. The job of the open-source software, that you would use, is to just translate the contents of a smart contract and make it machine readable. So ultimately the trust is put on the contract which you yourself have created 🙂


So how it is done?

The Ethereum network

The Ethereum Foundation based out of Switzerland, founded by Vitalik Buterin,3 launched an open source software called the Ethereum. You can use Ethereum to either create a private network or join the already existing global network. The Ethereum network stores data in a distributed format and takes actions automatically. It is akin to one unified global computer and therefore it is called the Ethereum Virtual Machine (“EVM”).

You can download your own copy of the Ethereum software freely from this github link.

This EVM has it’s own cryptocurrency called the ether, which is going at the rate of 18.59539 USD as of now. The best part is that the EVM can also be used to create new cryptocurrencies (or digital tokens) of your choice. You can actually run a currency in your name, the strength of which would depend on how others value the worth of it.

The EVM can run automated softwares (smart contracts) which can effect changes to the cryptocurrencies which have been launched on it. Smart contracts can be written in high-level programming languages such as Solidity, Serpent and Viper (derivatives of Python).


What does it look like?

A smart contract looks like this:

contract MyToken {
 /* This creates an array with all balances */
 mapping (address => uint256) public balanceOf;

 /* Initializes contract with initial supply tokens to the creator of the contract */
 function MyToken() {
 balanceOf[msg.sender] = 10000;

 /* Send coins */
 function transfer(address _to, uint256 _value) {
 if (balanceOf[msg.sender] < _value) throw; // Check if the sender has enough
 if (balanceOf[_to] + _value < balanceOf[_to]) throw; // Check for overflows
 balanceOf[msg.sender] -= _value; // Subtract from the sender
 balanceOf[_to] += _value; // Add the same to the recipient

This smart contract of only ten lines is written in Solidity. It generates 10,000 tokens for the initiator of the contract. To create the tokens the initiator would either need to have his own computer which can mine the tokens or he will need to hire a computer or he can just outsource it to the global network for a much cheaper cost.

These tokens are the minimum tradeable unit and cannot be subdivided, so owning a single token could be represented in shares (say 10 tokens is 0.01% of the total of 1,00,000 tokens).

The above lines of code will be compiled to bytecode which is a string of 0s and 1s by the Ethereum software and would be deployed to run on the network. This simple contract just allows the initiator to create new digital tokens and send them from one account to another.


It costs

One important thing about smart contracts is that it costs to execute a contract. Every movement of the contract costs, and the costs are quantified in ‘gas’ units. This example contract would at most need 20,000 gas, which is around 0.0002 ether, equivalent to a very negligible cost in money, about 20 paise in INR.

This cost is due to the complex mining process which requires huge computational power to hash the bytecode and write it to the blockchain.

The nodes which do the hashing are called mines and they are rewarded for their work in maintaining the blockchain. The nodes are paid in ether. The ether is deducted from the account which initiates the contract. Although uploading a contract on the network is very cheap as of now, it still provides a much needed incentive to write minimal code.


Use cases of a smart contract

Automated monthly payments or EMIs

A small smart contract can be written to send 100 ether to a specific account on the third of every month for twelve months. This will create a deterministic relation between two parties. The receiver would not have to worry for payment on the third of every month, and the sender does not need to remember it. Obviously, till the moment there is enough ether in the sender’s account. In addition, to employ more security to the contract an escrow account can also be created containing 1200 ether.

Music Industry

An artist can write a smart contract which deducts a specific amount of ether every time one plays his music. To play the music the smart contract shall ask for the ethereum public key of the player’s account and make it available only on the EVM in an asymmetrically encrypted form. The user can login only by using his ethereum private key. R.I.P. Piracy.

Gold and Diamond Trade

Gold or diamond merchants globally can issue virtual cryptocurrencies redeemable against real physical gold or diamond. It can be named GoldCoins and traded freely on the EVM. The speed of large transactions would do away with the current lag in international settlement systems and bring transparency to the movement of gold.

Diamond is already being transacted on the blockchain technology by a company named Everledger. They are using digital locks to keep diamonds, the locks can be opened only through the internet using a blockchain network.

Real Estate

Real physical property can be equated into a fixed number of tokens and then traded on the EVM. A plot of land of 100 acres can be divided into 10,00,000 LandCoins and then transacted with. The issue and movement of LandCoins would be traceable for the infinite future reducing all forms of land disputes and presenting a clear picture of every property.

Furthermore, drones or GPS transmitting fences can be used to determine land ownership and the data can be stored in an immutable form on a blockchain network for transactions. This would provide for an immutable and undeniable record of land rights.

Securities Market

A company can issue digital tokens against it’s shareholding and sell the tokens on the EVM from time to time. The worth of the company would depend on how much others would value the digital tokens. It will make international securities trade faster than ever before. Currently settlement in international markets take two working days, this can be reduced to 10 minutes or lesser. As a result, ownership pattern of all companies would be transparent and violation of securities law would be easily detectable.

The Euroclear Bankchain is using blockchain to effect immediate settlement.

Cab services

I can write a smart contract which reads my GPS coordinates. This contract would pay in ether from my account to the account of a cab driver the moment I reach my destination. The payment modalities can be thoroughly kept peer to peer without any involvement of a third party. No subsidies or coupons, pure market forces.


Every legal contract, in some way or the other, is nothing but a transfer or an exchange of value from one party to another. True, that they would now be needed to be looked at from a different perspective, but, yes, they hold the future of all contracts.


Legal Industry

The civil and corporate domains of law would receive a huge jolt. It would be impossible to have a dispute on the possession of cryptocurrencies on the EVM. There would be sea changes in the legal industry due to the onset of smart contracts.



A contract between two parties is written in code into the blockchain. The individuals may prefer to remain confidential but the contract is public.


Smart Contract

A triggering event like time or a strike price is taken into account and the contract executes itself according to the code.



Regulators can use the blockchain records to see the nature of the contracts while maintaining complete anonymity of party identity.



Do not take the simplicity of smart contracts for granted. Smart contracts can be made into very lengthy and complex software, while the working of which two persons need to agree on.

The legal status of smart contracts is already under consideration. The lower chamber of Arizona’s legislature has already tabled the HB 2417 bill which seeks to confer legal recognition to blockchain signatures. The bill has been forwarded with an unanimous vote as of today (1 March 2017).4

In the words of the Arizona Legislature:

“Blockchain Technology” means distributed ledger technology that uses a distributed, decentralized, shared and replicated ledger, which may be public or private, permissioned or permissionless, or driven by tokenized crypto economics or tokenless. The data on the ledger is protected with cryptography, is immutable and auditable and provides an uncensored truth.5


And David Cameron is rooting for wider use of blockchain technology to fight corruption in government tenders.6

“… most excites me is, the potential that your technology [blockchain] has to fight corruption and to deal with failures of governance and governments and the rule of law all over the world.”
– David Cameron


Seems like, law enforcement and judiciary would now get the much required break to focus on criminal law.



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What is SBI doing with Blockchain technology? Intro to Bankchain

As per the latest reports, State Bank of India along with ten other commercial banks, is taking the lead in building the country’s first financial blockchain framework. Reportedly, Axis Bank, Central Bank of India, DCB Bank, Deutsche Bank, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, IDBI, Kotak Mahindra Bank and Saraswat Bank are the other players in this consortium. This framework built upon the blockchain technology is being developed for SBI by global technology giants IBM, Microsoft and KPMG, among others.1


What is blockchain?

Blockchain is a decentralised transactional record management system where exchange of value is independently managed by participants of the network.

The technology behind blockchain relies on the undeniable proof of mathematics. Identity and authority to make transactions on the blockchain medium is ascertained by mathematical functions.

As of now the most popular use case of blockchain is bitcoin. Currently, the publicly available ledger of bitcoin records each bitcoin transaction with little or no cost, and stores them permanently on an immutable chain of records called the blockchain. It provides for a traceable history of all transactions till the very beginning. This offers an ironclad proof of ownership. As there is no single trusted authority to maintain the database it is not susceptible to hacking and accounting errors.

However, blockchain can be used to transact in any goods or services. Like diamond2 and gold instead of bitcoins.

You may read quickly about bitcoin and the underlying technology blockchain in this detailed article: What are bitcoins / cryptocurrency / blockchain – what is so different than fiat money?


What is Bankchain?

The blockchain’s new found use case in the clearing and settlement of financial transactions is being taken seriously from the past 18 months. According to the consulting firm Oliver Wyman, clearing and settlement alone costs the global financial industry a whopping USD 50 billion annually.3 The structural inefficiencies and the traditional delay associated with clearing houses make for an industry ripe for disruption.

Initially started out as a secretive consensus-based ledger system exclusively for financial institutions, Bankchain is a project of industry leading bitcoin exchange – ItBit.

Chad Cascarilla, CEO, itBit

itBit was started by CEO Chad Cascarilla in 2012 as an early stage growth fund directed at bitcoin/digital currency-related startups. itBit was possible as Chad was a highly experienced manager and co-founder of the hedge fund Cedar Hill Capital Partners.

ItBit invited almost 100 participants including major banks, brokers and stock exchanges of the USA to its “Bankchain Discovery Summit” at Washington, D.C. on 27th April, 2015. This summit was especially closed to the press.

In later stages ItBit formed a product named Bankchain, a custom technology to meet the specific needs of the financial world. Bankchain then joined hands with Euroclear to create the Euroclear Bankchain4 which was to be specifically used in international gold transaction.

Euroclear group is a consortium of Euroclear banks. It is rated AA+ by Fitch Ratings and AA by Standard & Poor’s. The consortium includes Euroclear Belgium, Euroclear Finland, Euroclear France, Euroclear Nederland, Euroclear Sweden and Euroclear UK & Ireland. The group settled an equivalent of EUR 675 trillion in securities transactions in 2015, representing 191 million domestic and cross-border transactions. By December 2015, the group held EUR 27.5 trillion in assets for clients.

On December 20, 2016 a good number of participants performed 600 mock London bullion trade transactions in a pilot project with Bankchain. It was ascertained that Bankchain helped lower trade risk and simplify post-trade process. The next pilot and live service is scheduled to happen in 2017.


The technology behind itBit’s Bankchain

Bankchain is built upon protocols derived from the blockchain technology but not purely the same thing. It is built on some proprietary algorithms developed by itBit to create a permissioned blockchain where members require special permissions to transact.

“It’s a private network. You know who everyone is. You can sign legal agreements among everyone involved that lay out the rules, and create a variety of ways to establish trust among the known participants. This allows you to reach a much speedier consensus not based on work, but on the fact [that] you are in the system.” – Chad Cascarilla

Unlike blockchain which relies on public creation of tokens (bitcoins) through a mix of cryptography and economics, Bankchain is not open to public and can be populated only by verified actors and tokens. Here the incentive is not in mining or maintaining the blockchain for rewards, it is the simple need of cost savings, which faster processing speeds and reduced red tape bring.

Bankchain does not rely on proof of work like the blockchain did. Unlike solving difficult math puzzles Bankchain relies on a variety of ways to establish trust. In a private network where the identities of the parties are established, trust can be easily created by consensus.

Also in place of the original token on blockchain, Euroclear Bankchain tokenizes physical gold. Digitised gold tokens are standardised to an unit of physical gold. These units are redeemable against gold coins amongst each other.

Instead of bitcoins, digital gold tokens are issued and these units can then be traded against. For e.g. instead of 100 BTC I may hold 100 DGT (digital gold tokens). I would be then able to buy 100 Gold coins worth of goods and services from the members of the same network who will honor the agreement. The ingress and egress of the DGTs is also based on a mutually agreed method.

This helps in dynamic reduction of time taken for international settlement of trade. As of now it takes about two working days for Bombay Stock Exchange to settle a transaction, on this technology it would be instantaneous.

However, this altered version of blockchain still uses the most of the original technology to create inviolable and immutable transaction records which take effect instantly! Participants get to control their own data without any central point of failure. Ultimately, the core difference is control, something critical to financial institutions with fiduciary concerns.


SBI Bankchain – meaning for India

RBI’s research wing Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology released a White Paper on Blockchain Technology – IDRBT on 6th January, 2017.

It talks about the technology and the mathematics behind bitcoins and presents use cases of the blockchain technology after explaining various concepts in bitcoin terminology. And finally, in chapter five it concludes with favourably putting the application of blockchain to Indian Banking and Finance.

Fast enough on 26th January, Dy Managing Director and CIO of State Bank of India, Mrutyunjay Mahapatra confirmed that 15 of India’s largest bank is coming together to make an interbank blockchain platform.

This platform would serve heavily in subverting scams like the ones of Harshad Mehta where a few banks issued bogus Bank receipts not backed by any security. An unified credit record can be established which would help in reducing Credit Card fraud. Current mechanisms like NEFT, IMPS cost banks a lot of money spent in interoperability, with Bankchain such problems would be non-existent.

However, Bankchain is only the probable technology they may use, the usage of the word in context to SBI does not mean they have settled upon the use of the proprietary technology owned by itBit. As of now, they have only invited technology companies and other banks to come together and devise ingenious ways to solve the Indian market conditions using blockchain.


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What are bitcoins / cryptocurrency / blockchain – what is so different than fiat money?

Bitcoins are all set to disrupt financial exchanges globally. In just one year the value of all bitcoins together have risen from USD 6 billion to USD 16 billion.1 At this rate I am sure by 2020 bitcoins will have a global value of at least USD 500 billion. Just like Potato Chips are a subset of Chips in general, bitcoin is a subset of cryptocurrency. There are other variants of cryptocurrency which are equally doing well in global markets. Litecoin, Titcoin, Zetacoin, so on and so forth.

Bitcoins are a form of cryptocurrency, and cryptocurrency is an application of the blockchain technology. In this article we would find out what are bitcoins made up of, what provides for the force behind cryptocurrencies, and what is blockchain.

To understand the working of bitcoins you would need to understand:

In any case I will be providing a brief overview of the concepts when they come up for discussion.


Background of blockchain

How do computers work?

To understand how computers work you have to (and I insist) read on how information can be stored digitally.6

If you are too lazy here it is:

Information is stored in the form of text, converted to numbers, say T is 084, and U is 085.7. These numbers are further converted to hexadecimal and then to binary numbers.8 The binary can now be stored directly on a USB Drive which has billions of transistors. Each transistor can hold two bits of information (0 or 1). Together they hold billions of bits. An 8 GB Flash drive has 32 billion transistors which hold 64 billion bits. Eight bits make a byte. 64 billion bits make 8 billion bytes or 8 gigabytes.


What is hashing?

To understand what is hashing and how digital fingerprints work you have to (and I insist) read on What is digital fingerprint and hashing? And how is it generated?

Hashing is reduction of information into a fixed set of characters. A huge chunk of binary numbers is taken and converted to a specific set of alphanumeric characters. The thing about hashing is that it can be done only one way. Once a piece of information is hashed it is impossible to retrieve the original data. Also, a hash changes radically with the inclusion or exclusion of even one bit of information.

For e.g.:
Donnie = 6f171d413bee711762beff4276595068 
Donni  = 02d5a92d1fc9b4903bb8ed51bcb6fd3b

Therefore just by comparing the hash of two files one can assert if the files are same or different. Hashing is therefore mainly use to check file integrity and malware infection.


What is asymmetric cryptography?

If you have not already then you have to (and I insist) read on asymmetric encryption and cryptography.9

Unlike symmetric cryptography10 (which uses the same key to encrypt and decrypt), asymmetric cryptography (also called public key cryptography) uses two different keys belonging to a pair.

We can encrypt a piece of information with one key and decrypt using the other. It is impossible to generate one without the other as they are mathematically linked. The keys can be found only by using complex maths.

If a piece of information is decrypted by using a decryption key, it would mean that whoever has the encryption key is the sole person to have encrypted it. If one of the keys is lost it is impossible to generate it solely on the basis of the other key.


What is a digital signature?

Digital signatures are here to gain advantage over handwritten signatures. Please read on What are digital signatures? Signing and verification – Relevant Indian Laws.

This is what a digital signature looks like: 7t418gpx7ms74j9g6kf0xbvyka4n17qz

This digital signature would be sent along with a document such as a word or PDF document.

This is nothing but the hash of the document asymmetrically encrypted using the encryption key. This can be verified only by decrypting the signature by the linked decryption key. The signature is decrypted and the hash is compared with the hash of the document to find out if it was the same document which was signed.

The presence of a digital signature affirms the integrity of the document and that it was the same document which was signed digitally by the one who encrypted it.



What is blockchain?

In order to record global transactions a list of all global transactional events happening in a fixed period of time are processed into single immutable read-only record files, called blocks. The blocks are added one after one in a linear chronological chain of blocks called a blockchain.

The blockchain is made publicly available for anyone with a computer system to download and analyze. Also anyone can add new transactions to a blockchain just by broadcasting a message. This renders banks and law enforcement agencies redundant. As a result, payments cannot be prevented and accounts cannot be seized.



As explained earlier a blockchain is nothing but a chain of transactional events stored in an immutable form. Anything you can imagine as transactional in nature where one party provides and another party accepts can be secured through the application of this technology.

For e.g. Diamond trade in the world is nothing but exchange of diamonds from one party to another. Every new transaction from now on till infinity can be stored on a blockchain. This innovation can do a lot to fully prevent disputes from manifesting in the first place.

As of now, blockchain has already found application in legal contracts (one party transfers goods or services to another), insurance, diamond trade11, etc. Quirky applications can be like organ transplants, vehicle or apartment renting,  etc. so on and so forth. Basically anything.

In the coming paragraphs I would discuss the most important and prevalent application of blockchain with which this technology found place in popular notion. Bitcoins. It was in fact other way round that bitcoins introduced blockchain in an anonymous paper titled: Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System by Satoshi Nakamoto

Although I would be explaining the working of bitcoins, you may please try and substitute it with anything of interest to you during the course of reading. Maybe real chocolates instead of bitcoins. Read on..


Bitcoins (BTC)

Bitcoins are nothing but simple numbers beside public keys (for the easiness of this article we shall substitute public keys with names). The names of the owners and the respective numbers are stored in a ledger format.

Donnie 5.777784
Bimal 70
Narendra 90.06

These numbers can be used just like fiat money to make transactions. After every transaction the balance of a transferor shall decrease and the balance of the transferee shall increase.

For e.g. If Narendra pays Bimal 5.4 BTC. The ledger will reflect the change and become:

Donnie 5.777784
Bimal 75.4
Narendra 84.66

However, in order to be used at par with fiat money BTC has to solve problems which money faces in general. In the coming paragraphs we will analyze each of the problems and find out how BTC uses the blockchain technology to solve them.


First problem: everyone should be able to read the ledger

To ascertain who owns how much, it is necessary that a copy of the ledger should be available globally.

This problem is solved by active nodes12 which continuously broadcast a copy of the BTC ledger. The copies of the ledger quickly spread across the internet and every node ultimately hosts a copy of the ledger.

This common storage of the ledger gives it a character of a public database, thereby establishing an irrefutable and indisputable clarity of ownership patterns.

Even if one node is dormant, other nodes on the network which are live would be able to store and continuously broadcast a copy of the ledger. In the most unlikely event of a global catastrophe, failure of internet across nations would only prevent registration of new transactions.


Second problem: fraudulent entries should be prevented

It is of prime concern to prevent malicious or fraudulent changes to the ledger. Random entries therefore should be prevented at all costs.

To solve this, the technology behind BTC – blockchain uses a concept called proof of stake. It basically means that only the stakeholders of a transaction should be able to make a transaction.

Therefore, only the transferor is allowed to make an entry (that too) on events of change of ownership of the BTC he holds. The only way to effect change in ownership is to transact.

To transact one has to broadcast a message containing

  • transferor’s name (however, in practice public keys are used)
  • transferee’s name
  • amount of BTC
Bimal -> 7 -> Narendra

Whoever receives the message can now update his own ledger. This updation would require calculation of the transaction w.r.t to the previous state of the ledger. The result would be:

Donnie 5.777784
Bimal 75.4-7 = 68.4
Narendra 84.66+7 = 91.66


Third problem: ascertaining authenticity of the message

If making a transaction were that simple then anyone could send transactional messages, or spoof it as if it were coming from a transferor. To avoid this, the message would simply be digitally signed by the transferor, and asymmetrically encrypted with his private key, to prove authenticity.


Fourth problem: dubious ownership

What will happen if the person sending the message does not in effect own the BTC? Disputes and eventual crash of the economy.

Solution: All transactional messages ever broadcasted are to be stored forever. The state of ownership pattern is then determined by every node independently. This is done by continuously calculating all the transactions that has taken place since the initial ledger.

Thus, every bit of it is kept accountable and traceable to the epoch of transactions. Every BTC transacted even in fractions and pieces can now be traced to the original BTC at any point of time.

Also, there cannot be negative BTC balances – blockchain does not allow anyone to pay what he does not have. Figuring out one’s own balance requires iterating through every transaction ever made and adding up the unspent inputs.


Fifth problem: the issue of double-spending

One may transmit two different messages transferring the same BTC twice to two different people. It would basically mean that the person is transferring something which he does not have by refuting an earlier transaction.

To ascertain immutability of previous transactions, new transactions carry the hash of the previous transaction. Every transaction is thus linked with the previous one and is in turn linked to the epoch of the transactions. This irrefutable link of all transactions is called a transaction chain.

For e.g.
Narendra -> 12.143 -> Bimal #a507a3a558f1e1858945e112a05bcee9 (hash of previous transaction Bimal -> 7 -> Narendra)
Bimal -> 2.0001 -> Amit     #0a931b4a58b7169e8e36ed4f6c2e6089 (hash of previous transaction Narendra -> 12.143 -> Bimal)
Amit -> 1.564 -> Naresh     #82ed03b2e546ebd51845507914deec39 (hash of previous transaction Bimal -> 2.0001 -> Amit)
Naresh -> 3 -> Donnie       #e50ac779f7bc9e6a2e6acf3eace05fc8 (hash of previous transaction Amit -> 1.564 -> Naresh)

Transaction chain:
a507a3a558f1e1858945e112a05bcee9 <-> 0a931b4a58b7169e8e36ed4f6c2e6089 <-> 82ed03b2e546ebd51845507914deec39 <-> e50ac779f7bc9e6a2e6acf3eace05fc8


Sixth problem: the issue of global syncing

Many transaction chains may quickly branch out from a single high volume transaction. Transaction chains are created by nodes who deal closely. They are sometimes country specific or industry specific. The different chains encounter different network and threat conditions globally. Computers may crash, hackers may manipulate, and networks may delay reporting of transactions.

To defeat these anomalies all transaction chains globally are queued for hashing. The longest available chain is hashed at the first followed by smaller chains.

One single transaction chain is hashed into a single file called a block. Blocks are permanent indisputable records of transactions. The block is then stored along with the current time and the hash of the previous block in a linear chronological arrangement called a blockchain. Every block is globally broadcasted and everyone updates their copy of the ledger.


Seventh problem: issues of data security, ingress and egress of BTC, centralisation of computational power

Generating a block after processing a transaction chain is an easy task and does not require much effort, anyone can generate a block. This creates a security threat from malicious users having huge computational power.

If it were true that only the best computers could manage blockchains then Google and Facebook would have been controlling the global BTC economy. To prevent such centralisation of computational power the blockchain works on a system of a mathematical lottery.

To be able to add a block to the end of a blockchain the publisher needs to solve a mathematical problem every time. This problem involves generating a 256 bit hexadecimal hash with a value lower than the specification set by the blockchain.

When a hash is generated it is mathematically random. Try generating the hash of your name here. Generating a hash within a given specification is very difficult and is akin to a lottery. If the hash generated is larger than the required value, 0s are appended to the beginning of the block to try and get a different hash. This is done with a hope that the random hash value generated would be lower than the specification set.

Lower the specification of the hash set by the blockchain, the more difficult it is to solve. The difficulty level of a blockchain keeps increasing over time as total computation power of the network increases (more and more nodes enter the network).

In practicality, billions of hashes need to be generated in order to get lucky and be able to add a block. As this is a lottery it does not matter what kind of computer you are using. This process of solving a mathematical challenge to add a block to a blockchain is called mining.

To incentivise mining and maintenance of the blocks, every addition to the block is automatically awarded by crediting the miner with new BTC. As a result the entry of new BTCs in global economy is intrinsically related to a real phenomenon of investing energy resources (electricity required to run nodes) in mining. This provides for a predictable, regular and stable growth of BTCs.


Cryptocurrency differences with fiat currency


The management of cryptocurrency is decentralised. There would be no public policy affecting inflation or deflation in the economy. This nature of cryptocurrency also promotes cross border free trade and freedom to transfer and hold without any fees. Law enforcements agencies or governments will have no control over the currency.

Privacy safeguards:

In Bitcoin, only the public key and the amount is mentioned, making it impossible to affix a business or person’s name. At the same time the ledgers are publicly maintained rendering extreme clarity on ownership. One can have multiple bitcoin accounts to receive funds for multiple reasons.


Bitcoin meets all the criteria of currency more than extant currencies. It cannot be forged, manipulated, created or destroyed unless as provided in the algorithm.


Overall Blockchain provides for the best medium to store and transfer intrinsic value. Instead of printing paper or plastic money if Rupees were to be printed digitally the blockchain medium has to be used.

For a good and long aftertaste of this article please watch this video:



Digital Currency Regulator: the need to be set up in India

A lot of interesting concepts were discussed at the Global Technology Summit held recently in December 2016. It had been organised by the Indian Chapter of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which is Carnegie India.

The Global Technology Summit is particularly important at this point of time as it holds relevance while we strive to move towards a cashless economy particularly: digital currency.

The topic of a Digital Currency Regulator (“DCR”) came up for discussion, and therefore we need to know more about the roles and regulations such a regulator would be involved in.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) is a model to be learned from, specifically in this context.

What is the typical role of a DCR? What does it do differently?

Around the world it has been a convention to put out white papers inviting suggestions, advice and criticism from the general public and all stakeholders. While the needs and pace of the technology industry is quite different, traditional or conventional model of public participation do not serve to create efficient outputs.

MAS innovatively puts entrepreneurs, MNCs, Governmental Authorities and Regulators together in touch through different events and programmes. MAS organises safe virtual environments where softwares are allowed to run and mimic real life interactions. In a nutshell, MAS helps entrepreneurs test their ideas in a sandbox and makes it easier for regulators to approve or deny technology innovations when it comes to Digital Currency.

Here Banks and other big corporates regularly share the bottlenecks they want to overcome in their businesses and Developers and Entrepreneurs have ready access to an ecosystem where they can constantly solve problems.

The best part of such collaborations is that regulations can be effected instantly and before any new technological standard hits the market. The Government can keep a tab on all latest inventions and discoveries without investing a tonne of sweat.

MAS has effected a lot of changes recently, particularly on the rules of outsourcing, cloud hosting, Applications Programming Interface and Open Source Programming.

While developing new technologies startups have to face lack of incentives in terms of finance, growth prospect, regulatory interference, etc. While some technologies take governments by storm, some very innovative ideas are never heard of.

For e.g. no country still perfectly knows how to handle Uber, while alternative technologies for e-signatures like Blockchain could not find adoption in India yet.

Recently National Payment Corporation of India released advisory instructions to banks for enabling the Universal Payment Interface. Such recourse would not have been necessary if Banks and Regulators were kept in constant touch with Entrepreneurs and Developers.

The platform created by MAS invests in learning of disruptive technologies and constantly creates challenges and incentives for developers to explore more. But unlike Singapore, India does not have a regulator like MAS.