What are the defenses to protect crypto blockchain security from quantum computers? It is believed that the advent of quantum computers will put the security of blockchain networks at risk and affect the functionalities of Bitcoin and other crypto coins significantly.
A few crypto experts and analysts believe that cryptocurrencies will founder if quantum technology is not integrated into blockchain technology.
It is only then that crypto will be able to overdo the quantum computing issues that it faces, or is about to face down the lane.
This will ensure that crypto continues to offer the benefits that it is already providing to the investors.
These two cutting-edge technologies, blockchain and quantum, when combined together will surely revolutionize both the fields in their entirety that may be already on a collision course.
However, if and when quantum computing becomes more powerful than blockchain then all the security guaranteed by blockchain network will essentially go out of the window, experts think.
In such a situation the public key cryptography will be revealed and compromised which will result in a complete breakdown of the system and the users will lose their funds.
Therefore, it is time to think about some positive and effective defense measures to protect blockchain networks and Bitcoin and other crypto coins from falling and failing due to the threats imposed by quantum computing.
However, this need may not be very immediate because it will take some considerable amount of time for quantum computing to achieve the immense computational power required to outpace the traditional computers.
Still, it is good to know about the steps to take to deal with the threats, and this article is all about it.
Defenses to Protect Crypto Blockchain Security from Quantum Computers
The technology underlying cryptocurrencies called blockchain does have the potential to disrupt the traditional financial and payment systems by eliminating the need of a middleman for facilitating a transaction.
It also helps millions of unbanked people all over the world to access financial and banking services that are not available in their regions.
However, the quantum computers come with exceptional power and data processing ability that can easily upend the way cryptocurrencies are designed to function and affect their operation.
Most importantly, it will affect the security aspect, which the blockchain networks boast of, in an adverse manner.
The problem will be even more profound when quantum computing matures so fast that it reduces the ‘future proof’ notion of digital money to zilch.
This is because the blockchain accounting technology underlying cryptocurrencies will be susceptible to fake transactions and sophisticated attacks.
Cryptocurrencies, as you may know, rely heavily on the public key cryptography technology for its security.
This ubiquitous system fundamentally protects all your online purchases, including goods and services apart from crypto coins.
It does it by scrambling your communications so that it is not accessible to anyone other than the recipient for whom it is particularly intended.
The working process of this technology involves combining the public key, which is visible to everyone, with the private key which is only known, stored and visible to the holder of the key.
However, with the rate the quantum computers are being developed, and if it is allowed to proceed at this rate, these computers will be able to break the public key cryptography.
This will be a serious threat to the crypto users as well as the entire crypto world which is worth hundreds and billions of dollars as of now.
When the encryption of the key is broken, attackers using quantum computers can very easily impersonate any legit owner of crypto coins, NFTs and other derivatives of such digital assets.
It is these chances that you need to eliminate from the equation by putting up proper defense measures in place.
Ideally, the quantum computers get the necessary power to operate by manipulating the data stored on Qubits.
These are more like those elements that carry charged atoms and are dependent on the peculiar quantum physics which typically deals with governing ultra-small elements.
The quantum computers will simply need to exploit thousands of these Qubits in order to crack an encrypted key.
In addition to that, the devices will also require constant supply of Qubits so that calculations can be performed for much longer a time rather than the ephemeral moments that are available to these devices right now.
The developers of quantum computers are working hard to resolve this issue by stuffing in more Qubits into the machines.
They are also working on the quantum error correction techniques so that it eventually helps the Qubits to perform more advanced calculations for a much longer time.
It is expected that down the lane, which can be a couple of years from now or by the end of this decade, more powerful and efficient quantum computers will be available that will crack blockchain networks open in quick time.
Therefore, unless the classical computers are developed to be better than the quantum computers and if there are no proper defense mechanisms to protect them and the blockchain networks from being compromised, the security of crypto will be weakened.
This will eventually make the future of crypto bleak.
Resolving the Quantum Computing Issue with Cryptocurrency
The good news for the crypto traders, investors, and enthusiasts is that quantum computing issues can be dealt with successfully with the use of similar post-quantum cryptography technologies.
These are the most widely used technologies that the entire software industry today is exploring in order to stay ahead of the curve.
For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the United States or the NIST is known to be collaborating with software experts from all over the world for this specific purpose.
In fact, they have been in touch with them for several years now in order to create more effective and useful quantum proof cryptography algorithms.
In addition to that, there are a large number of Bitcoin and blockchain projects that are also involved in developing quantum resistant software actively.
For example, look at the Ethereum project.
It has been successful in establishing itself as the second-largest cryptocurrency in the world after Bitcoin in terms of total value.
Of late, this platform has been engaged in mapping a post-quantum path.
An indication of the platform shifting from the traditional Ethereum 1.0 to a more advanced Ethereum 2.0 is made clear already and the Ethereum Foundation researcher Justin Drake even indicated shifting to Ethereum 3.0.
However, that seems to be a long way off from now.
Apart from that, there is also news of a merger of Honeywell and Cambridge Quantum Computing to work on quantum security technology that can be set up in any blockchain network.
The main objective of the project is to connect together the devices that store the digital signatures needed to sign and encrypt the blockchain data.
Moreover, Daniela Barbosa, the executive Director of Hyperledger Foundation, which is an open-source software initiative, said that they are also in the process of creating post-quantum cryptography for corporate uses of blockchain.
They are doing it by deploying Ursa, which is a cryptographic software package.
Therefore, in this age of quantum computing, it is needless to say that several people and companies are now engaged in developing new blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies that will be able to face the threats posed by the quantum computers.
However, there are quite a few issues related to post-quantum cryptography.
According to the CEO of quantum computer manufacturer IonQ, Peter Chapman, one of the most significant issues with the existing post-quantum cryptography method is that these need longer processing times.
Also, these methods normally demand large numeric encryption keys.
These eventually increase the need for a large amount of computing power that is needed to host blockchain networks.
These issues related to quantum computing with cryptocurrencies need to be fixed, and as you can see, several companies are already actively working on it.
At this point, you may ask why exactly quantum computing is a threat to crypto and blockchain.
Well, the most significant reason behind it is that the quantum computers have the ability to do what the traditional computers of today cannot.
As a matter of fact, blockchain technology, especially Bitcoin blockchain, can achieve all its security objectives mainly because the computers of today come with limited computing abilities.
This is because the traditional computer technology of today uses ‘Bits’ for computing.
Ideally, Bit refers to the smallest unit of information stored.
At any given point in time, a Bit can only have a ’0′ or a ’1′ and the whole range of the existing computing algorithms is designed to process these ’0’s or ’1’s.
However, in quantum computing, it is not ‘Bits’ but ‘Qubits’ or ‘Quantum Bits’ that are used.
The Qubits can simultaneously hold a ’0′, a ’1′, as well as a superimposed state of both.
This provides the quantum computers with an entirely diverse computing paradigm that adds to its computing power which is much more in comparison to the traditional computers available today.
This offers the users of quantum computers with a number of significant quantum advantages.
One such advantage is that these quantum computers are able to use physical effects like entanglement and superposition of states in order to perform computational tasks, unlike the traditional computers.
Though these quantum computers are not more powerful than the traditional computers as of now, it will soon be.
When it does, the quantum computers will be able to outdo the traditional computers in performing such computational tasks.
Typically, it is the superimposition of the quantum computers that makes them free from the restrictions of linear equations.
It allows them to decipher exponential equations with the additional processing power which expedites the processing significantly and at the same time use less energy.
Therefore, it is needless to say that quantum computing will be in vogue in the future not only in the field of crypto but several computer scientists will use it even in other fields as well to make massive advancements. These fields could be:
- Applied Mathematics
- Machine Learning
- Artificial Intelligence
- Big Data and Analytics.
However, sticking to cryptocurrencies, the quantum computers will be able to break the security protocols of a blockchain that relies heavily on cryptographic algorithms.
This puts the blockchain networks at risk because the only line of defense of these networks is the digital signature of the users.
This one-way function protects the funds of the crypto users.
In comparison, a traditional bank client has more than one protective measure such as:
- Security questions
- Identity checks
- Plastic cards and
- Human cashiers.
Therefore, considering crypto and its security, it is easier to get into the network by an attacker.
All that is needed to be done is crack the codes of the digital signatures.
That is why this is considered to be the most impending threat.
When a malicious actor is equipped with a quantum computer, forging any digital signature will be easy by using Shor’s algorithm.
These actors can even impersonate a legitimate user and steal their digital assets.
However, the crypto experts seem to have different opinions about the time when the quantum computers would take over the traditional ones.
While most of them think that it will need more than a decade’s time to design a universal quantum computer that can perform a wide variety of calculations, few think that it will happen soon.
These handful of experts think that the emerging quantum computers even with their limited capabilities will be able to find solutions very quickly.
This will enable the users who are looking to censor their transactions a great deal as well as those who want to control the addition of new blocks to the Bitcoin blockchain, a process called mining.
Quantum computers therefore can help these malicious parties to impair crypto transactions and prevent recording their own transactions or double-spends.
Several research teams all over the world have pointed out the impacts such attacks would have on the crypto world and suggested that people workaround to reduce, if not eliminate these chances.
They suggest that the crypto protocols should be updated beforehand otherwise it will crash as and when the quantum computers are available in the market.
And, this can be done by using the quantum technologies itself, they suggest.
Luckily, a significant benefit of quantum technologies is that it also offers the opportunity to improve the security of the blockchain networks and at the same time boost up its performance.
The technology will allow quantum-safe encryption which will authenticate the communications inherently.
This will eliminate the chances of any user impersonating others.
Typically, this is facilitated by the technology by using the states of photon or the individual particle of light for encoding bits and communicating them.
The basic principle of physics specifies that the quantum states cannot be duplicated or measured without modifying them.
This means that anyone trying to do so will be identified easily.
The classical digital signatures can be replaced by using quantum cryptography and also to encrypt all communications made between the peers on the blockchain network.
However, there are a few limitations to the widespread adoption of it as of now which include the cost and complexity of quantum cryptography.
Another significant issue is that the existing protocols need every node on the network to be connected with the other through optical fiber channels.
This is needed because there is typically no dependence on any nodes in the middle which means that all communications should be direct.
It is also required by the protocols to maintain high security during communicating even when information is sent through unreliable nodes. Though such a system has been developed, it is not yet accessible by the consumers.
Then there is the issue of photon losses in optical fiber.
This reduces the range of the modern Quantum Key Distribution systems.
This issue can be resolved by using a quantum repeater which uses quantum optical memory and quantum teleportation technologies to share out entangled states between the parties communicating.
Once again, a practical device is a long way from reality.
One thing that can be done in the meantime is to tighten the one-way functions instead of using one of the few alternative encryption functions that have been proposed.
These alternative options are hard to reverse with classical or quantum computers, though these can function on existing hardware.
These are also not very secure and may be deciphered in the long run.
Using a combination of quantum technology and quantum internet while communicating and computational processing will also enhance security of the blockchain data.
It will also make the blockchain networks much more efficient and work faster.
Quantum internet connects the quantum computers that are spread over a quantum communications network.
This will help in running fully quantum blockchain networks.
These networks will be able to circumvent a few of the computationally demanding steps commonly associated with the existing consensus and verification process.
As a result, this will make the networks much more secure and efficient.
This means that Quantum Bitcoin currency, as proposed, can be recognized simply due to the security assurance by quantum mechanics and its no-cloning theorem.
Even bank notes, if they are designed with quantum information records contained in them, will be impossible to fake.
However, and once again, quantum internet is not going to happen anytime soon and therefore, as an interim step, ‘blind quantum computation’ may be followed.
In this process a user using a classical computer can run an algorithm on a quantum computer remotely without needing to share the algorithm or input data.
The good thing about this technology is that it will make blockchain networks more accessible and cheaper as it will run on cloud-quantum-computing platforms.
Therefore, quantum computing comes with a mixed bag of benefits and limitations, and it will take a long time for it to do away with the limitations in order to become more beneficial to the users.
The next immediate step for any blockchain business today is to update the current software by using one-way cryptographic functions.
These functions, as said earlier, are difficult to reverse using any computer, traditional or quantum.
This is a very significant post-quantum solution that every business should standardize or establish.
It is only then that the platforms will be capable and flexible enough to change the cryptographic algorithms spontaneously.
Also, the companies need to think on the long term.
For that, it is required to build up and level up the quantum communication network and the quantum internet subsequently.
With the help of quantum secured blockchain, the government agencies can protect personal, financial, and health data of the citizens.
However, this is a costly and time taking affair which will need a lot of investment and effort from the governments.
Still it is worth it because the entire nation will benefit from the security offered by it.
Nevertheless, given the current scenario, much greater urgency is required from all corners to deal with the risks and issues with blockchain that may be looming so that the impacts of it are not grave.
Quantum Resistant Ledger
Limiting the discussion to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, the only way to prevent quantum computing from destroying Bitcoin blockchain is by creating and using a quantum resistant ledger.
Though there are other responses to the quantum computing threat being developed and are coming up, the quantum resistant ledger seems to be the most suitable one as of now since it will solve the immediate threats to digital signatures.
The quantum resistant ledger involves a series of data encryption algorithms that are supposed to be post-quantum secure.
Often referred to as XMSS or the eXtended Merkle Signature Scheme, it uses OTS or ‘One Time Signature’ system which allows the users to sign one transaction only by one key.
This makes it quite difficult for the hackers to interpret it even with a quantum computer.
This is because the signature will change every time a transaction is made and the user signs on it.
This means that the hackers will not have any definite private key to hack the system by using it.
Using quantum keys can help in addressing challenges imposed by quantum computing on blockchain.
Quantum Key Distribution or QKD is not a new concept.
In fact, in May 2017, QKD was developed by the researchers at the Russian Quantum Center.
This is typically a blockchain that is claimed to be safe from quantum computing threats.
It is designed by combining QKD with post-quantum cryptography.
There are laser beams in QKD that send out cryptographic keys by using the quantum properties of particles of light called photons for it.
The quantum properties of photons are coded in binary ‘0‘s and ‘1‘s.
These quantum properties are changed automatically by the prying acts of the hackers when they try to interrupt the cryptographic keys in transmission.
This makes the keys unusable.
The QKD networks incidentally are in use already in the United States, Europe and other countries and these help a great deal to manage smart contracts.
The mathematical puzzles on which the blockchain security is dependent as of now is hard to crack even by the best traditional computers.
Ideally, the blockchain technology guarantees resilient data security but when quantum computers are available it may be undone.
The puzzle of multiplying two prime numbers to find out a new number gets nearly impossible to crack when these numbers grow in number.
However, the puzzles can be a bit easier to solve and finding the prime factors of the number can be quick by using the Shor’s algorithm that was designed by Peter Shor in 1994.
However, this will need a quantum computer to make it possible.
It will be easier and faster for a quantum computer to solve the math-based encryption.
The Quantum Key Distribution however makes the best use of the laws of quantum mechanics.
This allows two parties to communicate and exchange secure data between them.
The QKD will detect whether or not there is a third party prying and trying to intercept the communication exchange or the keys.
Therefore, using Quantum Distribution Keys combined with a blockchain network will help the users to secure the network against attacks by hackers on both conventional and quantum computers.
This will help everyone involved in blockchain activities to stay one step ahead of the malicious actors in cyberspace who threaten security and make it a perpetual challenge for the blockchain networks.
Apart from the above measures taken to defend the threat imposed by quantum computers on crypto blockchain networks, the blockchain community too has some significant roles to play regarding this matter. They need to be more proactive.
Though it is true that there is no immediate threat to the crypto world by the quantum computers since its commercial versions will take a long time to hit the market, the blockchain ecosystem and the community should not take the threat too lightly.
With more and more businesses and governments adopting blockchain aggressively and attracting a lot of interest even from individuals, an unexpected release of the quantum computers will impact and reduce the security of the blockchain networks significantly and immediately.
This will result in a huge loss because by then the governments, businesses, and communities will have invested a huge amount of money on resources and energy to adopt blockchain.
They will suddenly find that their investments have no value and there is no return from it.
In order to avoid such avoidable and unpleasant situations, it is elementary that the blockchain community is more proactive in addressing the threats of quantum computing on crypto.
Blockchain Quantum Computing
Now, since quantum computers pose threats to blockchain, the most feasible way to protect it is to use quantum blockchain as a mode of defense.
Several modern physicists say that one of the most effective and productive ways to foil the threat of quantum computers to break the cryptographic algorithm that the traditional blockchain networks rely on is to entangle the present with the past.
A blockchain is actually a complex mathematical structure. It stores transaction data securely and immutably.
Blockchain has come to the limelight on the wake of Bitcoin boom to store the transactions related to the currency but the same technology is used to store any given type of data such as:
- Shipping and transportation data
- Supply chain data
- Financial data
- Health and medical treatment related data
- The data for the progress of any computer program
- Data related to smart contracts and lots more.
Therefore, blockchain is the main driving force of the different industries and several other technologies in the 21st century.
The security aspect of this innovative technology is assured by the standard cryptographic functions because breaking these codes need a lot of computing power, which is not available as of now generally.
However, the emergence of the powerful quantum computers can easily break the cryptographic protection of the traditional computers.
Nevertheless, no matter how beneficial it is, it still has an Achilles’ heel.
It is however found that the quantum computers are not capable of breaking the quantum cryptographic codes.
Therefore, it is quite reasonable to suggest that the security of the blockchain networks can be enhanced and protected by including quantum cryptography to it.
However, there are a few physicists who suggest that there is even a more functional and fundamental solution to it which is to make the whole blockchain a quantum observable fact.
They suggest that it will be much better than simply adding quantum cryptography to blockchain networks because it will merely add an additional quantum layer to the normal blockchain protocol.
The primary idea here is to create a blockchain by using quantum elements that will be entangled in time.
This will help in each of the quantum elements to encode the entire history of all the previous transactions as well as its predecessors in such a way that it cannot be hacked by anyone without destroying it.
These types of protocols are much more reliable since these depend on the basic laws of physics to assure security.
However, there is also a notable side effect of the decentralized quantum blockchain which is that it can be considered as a quantum networked time machine.
Ideally, the fully quantum version of a blockchain is a specific phenomenon that is at the heart called entanglement.
This means that the two quantum particles share the same existence when these particles interact at the same space, point and time.
As a result, irrespective of the distance between the two particles, when one is measured it will influence the other immediately.
The security is however guaranteed by the entanglement which is extremely fragile.
When a single pair of the entangled particles is measured, it destroys the entire link immediately.
This means that when a malicious actor wants to interfere with a pair it becomes very obvious to the other immediately.
Moreover, the particles do not just become entangled over space but also get entangled over time.
This means that a specific particle that currently exists may be entangled with a particle that was present in the past.
And, if there is a measurement on the existing particle, it influences its predecessor immediately.
This eventually leads to counterintuitive and subtle phenomena.
However it is quite hard to differentiate between the cause and the effect.
Another notable effect of it is that it typically increases that amount of information that can be passed on through time.
Typically, in this type of temporal entanglement of the quantum blockchain the fundamental idea is to encode the available data on a quantum particle.
This eventually creates the initial quantum block.
As and when more data is available, the data available from the first particle is combined with that of the second particle in a quantum operation.
When this happens, the former block is discarded and the record contained in it is then combined with the transaction record of the second block.
The data from the subsequent blocks can be added in the same process, which eventually creates a chain.
This chain is extremely secure because anybody trying to manipulate or tamper with it will invalidate it immediately.
This is the most significant advantage of quantum entanglement of a blockchain.
The quantum blockchain also comes with another significant advantage.
The earlier blocks of the chain are totally tamper-proof because the hacker cannot even access the earlier photons because these do not exist any longer.
This means that entanglement in time will offer much greater security benefits in comparison to entanglement in space.
The best part of this technology is that it is nothing new or alien. Most of this technology exists already, at least in the proof-of-principle form, and their subsystems are already realized experimentally.
This is quite an interesting process to protect classical blockchain networks as and when quantum computers become more relevant and powerful.
A quantum computing blockchain may be a very useful defense but the fact that there is one most significant element of it is not available yet makes it less useful, which is a quantum web.
However, with everything in place and proper, this type of network will be able to transmit quantum info through quantum routers most efficiently without destroying the quantum properties.
This will protect the current crypto blockchain networks from the threats imposed by quantum computers.
The good news is that such systems are being designed and are expected to be rolled out soon in The United States, Europe, and China very soon within a couple of years.
Building such kinds of systems is indeed a complex engineering task and is not confined within the fundamentals of physics.
However, research and development to implement quantum blockchain is on and it is just a matter of time for it to become possible.
However, whether this protocol will emerge as one of the best is a different question, of course.
So, as this article points out, there are some major threats imposed by quantum computers on crypto, though it is not immediate.
Still there are some useful measures that should be taken by the businesses, communities and governments to protect cryptocurrencies.