Understanding the Risks of Mining Bitcoin

At this point of your journey into the cryptocurrency world, you probably have a strong grasp of the fundamental mechanics of the coin, and maybe understand the basics of “proof-of-work” systems.

Assuming you already have this understanding, you know that the robustness of the network is what secures the entire bitcoin protocol. As such, there is an opportunity for money to be made if you are able to add value to the network, you will be compensated for your time. This is essentially what mining bitcoin is, and it is very possible for you to make a good return on your capital if you go about it intelligently.

Cloud Mining for Lower Risk

Mining has advanced quite a bit since bitcoin’s creation in 2009. It used to be that you could use any PC to mine cryptocurrency. The algorithm is designed to adapt the level of difficulty and work required to be done so that the average block time stays at approximately 10 minutes.

The most important decision you’ll make in terms of bitcoin mining is whether to mine using cloud services, or if you are going to buy your own rig instead. Each method comes with different levels of risk due to the varying risk structures.

Cloud mining has you rent mining hardware from a company or just get a portion of their hashing power. There are many different operators in the field, and it is important you perform some heavy research to figure out what the best investment of your capital is. Cryptocompare has a list of all the different companies you can use and how they have been rated and reviewed recently.

Personal Mining for Higher Potential

When you make the decision to go the personal mining route, you are taking a much bigger risk in terms of upfront investment. There is a significant cost involved, and you are buying some very specialized hardware. The top consideration should be whether you have access to cheap electricity, because without that, you are putting yourself in a terrible position.

Once you choose your hardware, it is all a matter of selecting the type of hardware you are going to use (there are many review sites, and this is outside the scope of this article) and then choosing a mining pool and software provider. Research is your friend, so you would do well to not neglect it.

Determining the Logistics

No matter what route you decide to go, you are going to have to make some decisions that will affect your overall workflow significantly. First, you must select a mining pool, which means you need to adjust for the amount of risk you are willing to take. Mining can be very profitable on your own, or you could go months without making any money at all. Going with a larger group will increase your likelihood of making money, but cap your earnings at a certain point.

There are pools that are set up to allow switching from mining one currency to another, depending on which is the most profitable, but we are going to stick to Bitcoin for the purposes of this article. One common point to watch out for with pools is whether they are paying out before the block properly verified, since that can cost the pools significant amounts of money.

Payout methods are the most relevant factor to consider when assessing mining pools, since they will determine the risk and return of your payments. There are ten or so variations, but it is only necessary to understand the three most common: Prop, PPS, and PPLNS.

Prop (or proportional) mining pools you are paid for the amount of valid shares you contribute to the pool when a block is found. Basically, you would be getting paid an exact amount based on the “work” you submitted. This is the best deal for the miner, but carries risk to the pool operator, since bad shares still get paid here.

PPS (or Pay Per Share) rewards miners for each submitted share. The miner knows the estimated number of shares to get the reward, and takes the risk of paying out per share before the reward is earned. As such, these generally have the highest fees.

Finally, PPLNS (or Pay Per Last N Shares) works like Prop pool, but instead of just rewarding miners for the last block, it rewards based on long-term contribution.

Afterwards, you also need to make sure you trust the wallet the cryptocurrency is being deposited into. The last thing you want is to leave a vulnerability for any of your earnings. This is an often-emphasized point, but you shouldn’t overlook it just because your past solution has worked for the small investments you put in.

Control the Risk

Never forget the fact that nothing is certain in investments, especially with bitcoin. This should steel you against the fact your investment may be lost. The fluctuations in the price of hardware, as well as the continuing increases in computing power, have turned bitcoin mining into somewhat of an arms race.

If you do find yourself feeling too risk averse to put significant funds into mining bitcoin, it might be better for you to just purchase bitcoins directly. This way, you are at least guaranteed to receive cryptocurrency.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.