Monero is a decentralized cryptocurrency, meaning it is secure digital cash operated by a network of users. Transactions are confirmed by distributed consensus and then immutably recorded on the blockchain. Third-parties do not need to be trusted to keep your Monero safe.
Monero uses ring signatures, ring confidential transactions, and stealth addresses to obfuscate the origins, amounts, and destinations of all transactions. Monero provides all the benefits of a decentralized cryptocurrency, without any of the typical privacy concessions. Sending and receiving addresses as well as transacted amounts are obfuscated by default. Transactions on the Monero blockchain cannot be linked to a particular user or real-world identity.
Monero is fungible because it is private by default. Units of Monero cannot be blacklisted by vendors or exchanges due to their association in previous transactions.
- Privacy (Untraceable payments, Unlinkable transactions)
Monero daemon uses the original CryptoNote protocol except for the initial changes (as the block time and emission speed). The protocol itself is based on ring signatures (Daniel J. Bernstein's Curve25519 + Ed25519, Schnorr signatures on a Twisted Edwards curve) and stealth addresses. The end result is passive, decentralised mixing based on heavily-tested algorithms.
The smart mining forthcoming feature will allow transparent CPU mining on the user's computer, far from the de facto centralization of mining farms and pool mining, pursuing Satoshi Nakamoto's original vision of a true p2p currency.
Monero has no hardcoded limit, which means it doesn't have a 1 MB block size limitation preventing scalability.
In cryptography, a ring signature is a type of digital signature that can be performed by any member of a group of users that each have keys. Therefore, a message signed with a ring signature is endorsed by someone in a particular group of people. One of the security properties of a ring signature is that it should be computationally infeasible to determine which of the group members' keys was used to produce the signature.
For instance, a ring signature could be used to provide an anonymous signature from "a high-ranking White House official", without revealing which official signed the message. Ring signatures are right for this application because the anonymity of a ring signature cannot be revoked, and because the group for a ring signature can be improvised (requires no prior setup).
Application to Monero
A ring signature makes use of your account keys and a number of public keys (also known as outputs) pulled from the blockchain using a triangular distribution method. Over the course of time, past outputs could be used multiple times to form possible signer participants. In a "ring" of possible signers, all ring members are equal and valid. There is no way an outside observer can tell which of the possible signers in a signature group belongs to your account. So, ring signatures ensure that transaction outputs are untraceable. Moreover, there are no fungibility issues with Monero given that every transaction output has plausible deniability (e.g. the network can not tell which outputs are spent or unspent).
To read how Monero gives you privacy by default (unlinkability), see stealth addresses.