78 percent of Bitcoin currency stashed under digital mattress, study finds

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More than three-quarters of the digital coins in the Bitcoin digital currency scheme aren't circulating because they remain dormant in user accounts that have never participated in outgoing transactions, a recently published study has found.

The figure translates to more than 7.019 million BTCs, the term used to denote a single coin under the digital currency, which uses strong cryptography and peer-to-peer networking to enable anonymous payments among parties who don't necessarily know or trust each other. Based on exchange rates listed on Mt.Gox—the most widely used Bitcoin exchange—the coins have a value of more than $82.87 million. On May 13, the date the researchers analyzed their data, there were slightly more than 9 million BTCs in existence.

Mathematician Dorit Ron and Adi Shamir (the "S" in the widely used RSA cryptography scheme) arrived at that finding by downloading the entire Bitcoin history and following the trail of some 180,000 transactions. They found there were about 3.12 million accounts, which are known as "addresses" in Bitcoin parlance. They belonged to about 1.851 different owners, since there's no limit on how many addresses a single individual may possess. More than 609,000 of those addresses had received a significant portion of the outstanding BTCs without once making a payment.