For most individuals participating in the Bitcoin network, the ins and outs of the blockchain, hash rates, and mining are not particularly relevant. Outside of the mining community, Bitcoin owners usually purchase their cryptocurrency supply through a Bitcoin exchange. These are online platforms that facilitate transactions of Bitcoin and, often, other digital currencies.
Bitcoin exchanges such as Coinbase bring together market participants from around the world to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. These exchanges have been both increasingly popular (as Bitcoin’s popularity itself has grown in recent years) and fraught with regulatory, legal, and security challenges. With governments around the world viewing cryptocurrencies in various ways—as currency, as an asset class, or any number of other classifications—the regulations governing the buying and selling of bitcoins are complex and constantly shifting.
Perhaps even more important for Bitcoin exchange participants than the threat of changing regulatory oversight, however, is that of theft and other criminal activity. Although the Bitcoin network itself has largely been secure throughout its history, individual exchanges are not necessarily the same. Many thefts have targeted high-profile cryptocurrency exchanges, often resulting in the loss of millions of dollars worth of tokens.
The most famous exchange theft is likely from Mt. Gox, which dominated the Bitcoin transaction space up through 2014. Early in that year, the platform announced the probable theft of roughly 850,000 BTC worth close to $450 million at the time. Mt. Gox filed for bankruptcy and shuttered its doors; to this day, the majority of that stolen bounty (which would now be worth a total of about $8 billion) has not been recovered.