Crypto industry may have 10 years or less to devise defenses against quantum computers capable of breaching its elliptic curve cryptography
(CoinTelegraph) Andres Singer gives a detailed account of value of quantum computing to the financial community but also provides indepth information about the dangers QC poses to crypto and quotes several reports and experts. IQT-News summarizes; the entire article worth reading and saving for reference.
The crypto sector could profit when quantum computing is realized to scale. A recent Bank of Canada-commissioned project simulated cryptocurrency adoption among Canadian financial organizations using quantum computing.
“We wanted to test the power of quantum computing on a research case that is hard to solve using classical computing techniques,” said Maryam Haghighi, director of data science at the Bank of Canada, in a press release.
But, others worry that quantum computing, given its extraordinary “brute force” power, could also crack blockchain’s cryptographic structure, which has served Bitcoin (BTC) so well since its inception. Indeed, some say it is only a matter of time before quantum computers will be able to identify the enormous prime numbers that are key constituents of a BTC private key — assuming no countermeasures are developed.
Along these lines, a recently published paper calculated just how much quantum power would be needed to duplicate a BTC private key, i.e., “the number of physical qubits required to break the 256-bit elliptic curve encryption of keys in the Bitcoin network,” as explained by the paper’s authors, who are associated with the University of Sussex.
This will be no easy task. Bitcoin’s algorithm that converts public keys to private keys is “one way,” which means that it is easy to generate a public key from a private key but virtually impossible to derive a private key from a public key using present-day computers.
In addition, this would all have to be done in about 10 minutes, the average amount of time that a public key is exposed or vulnerable on the Bitcoin network.
Given these constraints, the authors estimate that 1.9 billion qubits would be needed to penetrate a single Bitcoin private key within 10 minutes. Qubits, or quantum bits, are the analog to “bits” in classical computing. By comparison, most proto-QC computers today can summon up 50–100 qubits, though IBM’s state-of-the-art Eagle quantum processor can manage 127 qubits.
Mark Webber, quantum architect at Universal Quantum, a University of Sussex spin-out firm, and the paper’s lead author, said, “Our estimated requirement […] suggests Bitcoin should be considered safe from a quantum attack for now, but quantum computing technologies are scaling quickly with regular breakthroughs affecting such estimates and making them a very possible scenario within the next 10 years.”
It seems the crypto industry might have about a decade to get ready for a potential QC onslaught. What is unfolding in this area, then, appears to be a sort of arms race — as computers grow more powerful, defensive algorithms will have to be developed to meet the threat.
Sandra K. Helsel, Ph.D. has been researching and reporting on frontier technologies since 1990. She has her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.