Quantum-Safe Cryptocurrency: Challenges for the Future

The future of computing is starting to arrive with the race to build the first stable quantum computer that would be able to far exceed classical computers’ ability to perform operations. For example, a 50 quad-bit computer equals 1.125 quadrillion classical bits.

Quantum computing is the next level of computers and they carry with them the power to totally supplant work that classical computers do, namely crack uncrackable encryption within seconds, and compromise Bitcoin address and API keys. For a quantum computer, this will be a small feat.

Currently, the chances of someone being able to hack a private key to a bitcoin wallet that might contain a substantial amount of currency is very small: 0.024% chance with a classical computer. To put that in perspective, that percentage of a successful hack is equal to winning the lottery multiple times in a row. Practically impossible, but not improbable.

While quantum computing is not there yet, companies such as Google and IBM are working on projects and state that we are only 5 years away from so-called “quantum supremacy,” where quantum computers surpass what a classical computer could ever imagine being able to do. Referencing the 50-quadbit computer mentioned previously, IBM is currently working on one of this size.

Play a Smart Defense

To combat this threat that quantum computers pose, some blockchain developers such as NEO are working on quantum-safe blockchains and cryptocurrencies. According to the NEO white paper:

NeoQS (Quantum Safe) is a lattice-based cryptographic mechanism. At present, quantum computers do not have the ability to quickly solve the Shortest Vector Problem (SVP) and the Closest Vector Problem (CVP), which is considered to be the most reliable algorithm for resisting quantum computers.

According to Open Quantum Safe, an open-source protocol for prototyping quantum-resistant cryptography:

Several mathematical techniques have been proposed for constructing quantum-safe cryptosystems, including:

  • hash functions

  • error correcting codes

  • lattices (including the learning with errors (LWE) and related problems)

  • multivariate equations

  • supersingular elliptic curve isogenies

Prepare For the Long-Term

Moving forward, it will be imperative to develop quantum-resistant cryptography before quantum computers start to appear. However, as with any new technology, it is always rare and expensive and only the rich can afford the technology. After some time, it starts to trickle down to into society as prices decrease and more people can afford it. Once it becomes affordable, this is the time to be concerned about hacking into cryptocurrencies. However, the timeline is still long according to a respondent to a poll put forth by Futurism:

In the 2020s, we will have quantum computers that are significantly better than super computers today, but they most likely won’t be in mass use by governments and companies until the 2030s. Eventually toward the end of the 2030s and early 2040s they’ll shrink down to a size and cost viable for consumer use. Before that point even with the exponential growth of technology I don’t think that it would be cost efficient enough for the average consumer to replace regular computing with quantum computing.

While quantum-safe technology will be important in 20 years, most cryptocurrencies are under no threat yet. But to the futurist, it would be wise to keep the threat of quantum computers in the back of your mind.

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