A high-profile Senate committee kicked off an investigation into Bitcoin and other virtual currencies this week.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Thomas Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate committee on Homeland Security, and his Republican counterpart Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) acknowledged that virtual currencies seem to "be an important emerging area" and therefore need to be regulated.
Bitcoin — a digital currency that can be transferred via computer or smartphone without oversight from a financial institution — has existed since 2009, but didn't really hit the mainstream until this year. Due in part to economic uncertainty in Europe, Bitcoin's value exploded in April, hitting more than $200.