Why Quantum Computing Isn’t a Threat to Crypto…Yet

Quantum computing has raised concerns about the future of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in recent years. For example, it is widely assumed that very sophisticated quantum computers will one day be able to crack current encryption, making security a serious concern for users in the blockchain space.

The SHA-256 cryptographic protocol used for Bitcoin network security is currently unbreakable by today’s computers. However, experts predict that within a decade quantum computing will be able to crack existing encryption protocols.

On whether holders should be concerned that quantum computers pose a threat to cryptocurrency, Johann Polecsak, CTO of QAN Platform, a layer-1 blockchain platform, told Cointelegraph:

“Absolutely. Elliptic curve signatures – which power all major blockchains today and have been shown to be vulnerable to QC attacks – will break, which is the system’s ONLY authentication mechanism. Once it broke, it will be literally impossible to tell a legitimate wallet owner apart from a hacker who has forged one’s signature.

If today’s cryptographic hashing algorithms are hacked, it leaves hundreds of billions of digital assets vulnerable to theft by malicious actors. However, despite these concerns, quantum computing still has a long way to go before it becomes a viable threat to blockchain technology.

What is Quantum Computing?

Modern computers process information and perform calculations using “bits”. Unfortunately, these bits cannot exist in two separate locations and two states simultaneously.

Instead, traditional computer bits can have the value 0 or 1. A good analogy is that of a switch being on or off. Therefore, if there is a pair of bits, for example, those bits can only contain one of four potential combinations at any time: 0-0, 0-1, 1-0, or 1-1.

From a more pragmatic point of view, this implies that it will probably take the average computer some time to perform complicated calculations, namely those that must take into account each potential configuration.

Quantum computers do not operate under the same constraints as traditional computers. Instead, they use something called quantum bits or “qubits” rather than traditional bits. These qubits can coexist in the 0 and 1 states at the same time.

As mentioned earlier, two bits can simultaneously contain only one of the four possible combinations. However, a single pair of qubits is able to store all four at the same time. And the number of possible options grows exponentially with each additional qubit.

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Therefore, quantum computers can perform many calculations while simultaneously considering several different configurations. For example, consider the 54 qubit Sycamore processor developed by Google. He was able to perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years.

Simply put, quantum computers are much faster than traditional computers because they use qubits to perform multiple calculations simultaneously. Also, since qubits can have a value of 0, 1, or both, they are much more efficient than the binary bit system used by computers today.

Different Types of Quantum Computing Attacks

So-called hoarding attacks involve a malicious party attempting to steal money by focusing on sensitive blockchain addresses, such as those where the wallet’s public key is visible on a public ledger.

Four million Bitcoins (BTC), or 25% of all BTC, are vulnerable to a quantum computer attack because owners use unhashed public keys or reuse BTC addresses. The quantum computer should be powerful enough to decrypt the private key from the unhashed public address. If the private key is successfully decrypted, the malicious actor can steal a user’s funds directly from their wallet.

However, experts predict that the computing power required to carry out these attacks would be millions of times greater than current quantum computers, which have fewer than 100 qubits. Nevertheless, researchers in the field of quantum computing have speculated that the number of qubits in use could reach 10 million in the next ten years.

In order to protect against these attacks, crypto users should avoid reusing addresses or transferring their funds to addresses where the public key has not been posted. This sounds good in theory, but it may prove too cumbersome for everyday users.

Someone with access to a powerful quantum computer could attempt to steal money from a blockchain transaction in transit by launching a transit attack. Because it applies to all transactions, the scope of this attack is much wider. However, its realization is more difficult because the attacker must complete it before the miners can execute the transaction.

In most cases, an attacker only has a few minutes due to confirmation time on networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Hackers also need billions of qubits to carry out such an attack, which makes the risk of a transit attack much lower than a storage attack. Nevertheless, it is still something users should keep in mind.

Protecting yourself against aggression during transport is not an easy task. To do this, it is necessary to switch the underlying cryptographic signature algorithm of the blockchain to an algorithm resistant to a quantum attack.

Measures to protect against quantum computing

There is still a lot of work to be done with quantum computing before it can be considered a credible threat to blockchain technology.

Additionally, blockchain technology will most likely evolve to solve the problem of quantum security by the time quantum computers become widely available. There are already cryptocurrencies like IOTA that use directed acyclic graph (DAG) technology which is considered quantum resistant. Unlike the blocks that make up a blockchain, directed acyclic graphs are made up of nodes and connections between them. Thus, records of cryptographic transactions take the form of nodes. Then the records of these exchanges are stacked on top of each other.

Block network is another DAG-based technology that is quantum resistant. Blockchain networks like QAN Platform use the technology to enable developers to create quantum-resistant smart contracts, decentralized applications, and digital assets. Network cryptography resists quantum computers because it is based on a problem that a quantum computer might not be able to solve easily. The name given to this problem is the shortest vector problem (SVP). Mathematically, the SVP is a question about finding the shortest vector in a high-dimensional lattice.

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The SVP is believed to be difficult for quantum computers to solve due to the nature of quantum computing. Only when the states of the qubits are completely aligned can the principle of superposition be used by a quantum computer. The quantum computer can use the principle of superposition when the states of the qubits are perfectly aligned. However, it must resort to more conventional calculation methods when the states are not. As a result, a quantum computer is very unlikely to be able to solve the SVP. This is why network-based encryption is secure against quantum computers.

Even traditional organizations have taken steps toward quantum security. JPMorgan and Toshiba have teamed up to develop Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), a solution they claim quantum-proof. Through the use of quantum physics and cryptography, QKD allows two parties to exchange confidential data while simultaneously being able to identify and thwart any effort by a third party to spy on the transaction. The concept is seen as a potentially useful security mechanism against hypothetical blockchain attacks that quantum computers may carry out in the future.

Sherry J. Basler