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Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies

Course Summary

There’s a lot of excitement about Bitcoin, but also a lot of confusion about what Bitcoin is and how it works. We’re offering this course focusing on the computer science behind Bitcoin to help cut through the hype and get to the core of what makes Bitcoin unique.

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    Course Syllabus

    Intro to Crypto and Cryptocurrencies

    • Cryptographic Hash Functions
    • Hash Pointers and Data Structures
    • Digital Signatures
    • Public Keys as Identities
    • Simple Cryptocurrencies

    How Bitcoin Achieves Decentralization

    • Centralization vs. decentralization
    • Distributed consensus
    • Consensus without identity: the block chain
    • Incentives and proof of work
    • Putting it all together

    Mechanics of Bitcoin

    • Bitcoin transactions
    • Bitcoin scripts
    • Applications of Bitcoin scripts
    • Bitcoin blocks
    • The Bitcoin network
    • Limitations & improvements

    How to Store and Use Bitcoins

    • Simple Local Storage
    • How to Store and Use Bitcoins
    • Secret Keys
    • Hot and Cold Storage
    • Splitting and Sharing Keys
    • Online Wallets and Exchanges
    • Payment Services
    • Transaction Fees
    • Currency Exchange Markets

    Bitcoin mining

    • The task of Bitcoin miners
    • Mining hardware
    • Energy consumption & ecology
    • Mining pools
    • Mining incentives and strategies

    Bitcoin and anonymity

    • Anonymity basics
    • Overview of Bitcoin deanonymization
    • Mixing
    • Decentralized mixing
    • Zerocoin and Zerocash
    • Tor and the Silk Road

    Community, Politics, and Regulation

    • Consensus in Bitcoin
    • Bitcoin Core Software
    • Stakeholders : Who’s in Charge?
    • Roots of Bitcoin
    • Governments Notice Bitcoin
    • Anti Money-Laundering Regulation
    • New York’s BitLicense Proposal

    Alternative Mining Puzzles

    • Essential Puzzle Requirements
    • ASIC Resistant Puzzles
    • Proof-of-useful-work
    • Nonoutsourceable Puzzles
    • Proof-of-Stake

    Bitcoin as a platform

    • Bitcoin as an append-only log
    • Bitcoins as “smart property”
    • Secure multi-party lotteries in Bitcoin
    • Bitcoin as randomness source
    • Prediction markets & real-world data feeds

    Altcoins and the Cryptocurrency Ecosystem

    • Short History of Altcoins
    • Interaction between Bitcoin and altcoins
    • Lifecycle of an Altcoin
    • Bitcoin-Backed Altcoins, “Side Chains”

    The future of Bitcoin? (Narayanan)

    • The block chain as a vehicle for decentralization
    • Routes to decentralization
    • What can we decentralize?
    • When is decentralization a good idea?

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    Recommended Background

    An introductory computer science class (such as CS 101) is required. 

    Basic programming experience as well as some knowledge of data structures and algorithms (linked lists, sorting, searching...) are strongly recommended.

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    Course Format

    The class will consist of lecture videos broken up into 5-7 segments, each 10-15 minutes in length. Each segment contains 1 or 2 integrated quiz questions.

    There will also be standalone homeworks that are not part of video lectures.

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    Suggested Reading

    There is no required reading for this class. As the lectures progress, we'll provide links to more in-depth material for students who want to dig deeper.

    The lectures for this course are also being published as a textbook. Drafts of several chapters are currently available (each corresponds to a lecture):

    Chapter 1: Introduction to Cryptography & Cryptocurrencies
    Chapter 2: How Bitcoin Achieves DecentralizationChapter 3: Mechanics of BitcoinChapter 4: How to Store and Use BitcoinsChapter 5: Bitcoin MiningChapter 7: Community, Politics, and Regulation

Course Fee:

Course Type:


Course Status:



1 - 4 hours / week

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