(CNBC) Within a decade, quantum computers could be powerful enough to break the cryptographic security that protects cell phones, bank accounts, email addresses and — yes — bitcoin wallets.
“If you had a quantum computer today, and you were a state sponsor – China, for example – most probably in about eight years, you could crack wallets on the blockchain,” said Fred Thiel, CEO of cryptocurrency mining specialist Marathon Digital Holdings.
This is precisely why cryptographers around the world are racing to build a quantum-resistant encryption protocol.
Right now, much of the world runs on something called asymmetric cryptography, in which individuals use a private and public key pair to access things such as email and crypto wallets. “Every single financial institution, every login on your phone — it is all based on asymmetric cryptography, which is susceptible to hacking with a quantum computer,” Thiel said.
The public-private key pair lets users produce a digital signature, using their private key, which can be verified by anyone who has the corresponding public key. In the case of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, this digital signature is called the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm, and it ensures that bitcoin can only be spent by the rightful owner.
The community knows that it is coming, and researchers are already in the process of building quantum-safe cryptography.
“The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has been working on a new standard for encryption for the future that’s quantum-proof,” said Thiel. NIST is running that selection process now, picking the best candidates and standardizing them.
expects the first standard quantum-safe crypto algorithm by 2024, which is still, as he put it, well before we’d see a quantum computer capable of breaking bitcoin’s cryptography.
Thorsten Groetker, former Utimaco CTO and one of the top experts in the field of quantum computing said, “Once a newly standardized post-quantum secure cryptography is built, the process of mass migration will begin. Everyone who owns bitcoin or ethereum will transfer [their] funds from the digital identity that is secured with the old type of key, to a new wallet, or new account, that’s secured with a new type of key, which is going to be secure,” he said.