What Does Quantum Mean To Blockchain Security?
Blockchain is one of the major revolutions that has taken the world by storm these past few years. It is an enabler of emerging supply chain, smart contract technologies, record management, clinical record tracking and is most predominantly used as a financial vehicle. It is seen as a financial asset and represents extreme amounts of extrinsic value.
Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are powered by blockchain technology and make it possible to conduct virtual transactions online, clear funds faster and enable trade without the need for a traditional bank or credit company.
There is a growing need for solutions that can protect data while creating an immutable record proving data has not been tampered with. Blockchain is perceived as highly secure due to its decentralized nature, consensus system of checks and balances, and cryptographic basis used to secure the data in a protected and validated state. For these reasons, it has become its own financial asset class for consumers and large funds.
Introducing Quantum Computing
We often see articles claiming that quantum computing will threaten blockchain, affecting the cryptographic base, communication protocols and compromising the immutability of its record. Since quantum computers are accessible via the cloud and are purposely being built by nation-state actors for cracking current cryptography, it is only a matter of time before threats against blockchain and cryptocurrency occur. A quantum computer operates differently from the classic computers we use today. Quantum computers use subatomic processes like entanglement and superposition to perform certain kinds of computations that are more powerful than our current computers can perform today.
Traditional computers use conventional processors, which have a 64-bit word length (1+N), whereas quantum computers have quantum processors and use qubits, which exponentially increase the word size (2^N). This is advantageous for problems that have massive numbers of variables needing to be computed as a large instruction set versus the linear processes used by our current, classic computers.
A successful quantum attack on a blockchain would erode any trust that blockchain has built with consumers, causing a cascading financial effect. According to The Block Research, “The total crypto market capitalization in 2021 also reached a record $3 trillion after recrossing $1 trillion in January and $2 trillion in May,” demonstrating aptly the global value of blockchain technology. Whereas, according to a Hudson Institute study, a successful quantum attack on cryptocurrency like bitcoin would have devastating effects on crypto owners.
These cascading impacts can crash the economy at large because of the amount of wealth linked to blockchain technology. It is vital to protect this value by addressing the inherent problems of wallet and node communication and the core infrastructure, including strengthening the underlying algorithms that power the blockchain itself.
Grover’s And Shor’s Algorithms
Let’s consider the two famous quantum computing algorithms from Grover and Shor and how they relate to blockchain. Grover’s algorithm uses quantum properties via a quantum computer to optimize search capabilities, enabling users to find values among billions of unstructured data points all at once. By contrast, Shor’s algorithm solves the problem: “Given an integer, find its prime factors.”
The key difference between Grover’s and Shor’s algorithms is that Grover’s is more of a threat to cryptographic hashing and stored data, whereas Shor’s is a threat to the communication channel where data between the wallet and the blockchain nodes reside. This is because the classic computers we use today cannot reverse-engineer cryptographic hashing—the computational power is too costly in terms of time and resource constraints. It takes too long using linear operations of classic computers, even when leveraging GPU farms.
Quantum computers are now science fact. Advances over the past two years have demonstrated that quantum computers that are powerful enough to outperform classic computers may be just a few short years away. Using Shor’s algorithm, a quantum computer can figure out the cryptographic keys associated with any public wallet address on a blockchain or attack data in transit. This would obviously pose an existential threat to blockchain users and erode trust, as attackers could break into accounts at scale.
Using a hash collision attack, Grover’s algorithm can break cryptographic hashing more easily than a classic computer can. When executing a hash collision attack, Grover’s tries to find two identical inputs that make the same hash value. This results in an error and creates the ability to change data protected by the very same digital signatures that secure the immutable record. Trust in the blockchain vanishes as a result, as data is falsified and captured for exploit.
Crypto mining is the process of creating individual blocks added to the blockchain by solving complex mathematical problems. Mining is used to verify cryptocurrency transactions and show proof of work. Adding this information to a block on the blockchain, a ledger for mining transactions enables the miners to be compensated in cryptocurrency. Leveraging the computational ability of quantum machines in combination with Grower’s algorithm, therefore, shifts and disrupts the mining process itself.
With the myriad possibilities quantum brings to the world, presently all we have for both quantum computing and blockchain are predictions. We must wait for quantum computers to scale and become more powerful.
In the meantime, blockchain developers have time to work on ways to protect the blockchain from a quantum computing attack by creating quantum-resilient ledgers. In combination with quantum cryptographic seeding, it will ease the concerns surrounding this emerging technology while building trust. With communication protocols like QSL (quantum secure layer) and post-quantum cryptography (PQC), using cryptographic systems to protect against quantum computing attacks is possible. PQC algorithms such as those studied by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) use complex mathematics such as multi-hundred-dimensional lattice infrastructures to hide a cryptographic key. Studies have determined that these chosen algorithms are highly resistant to quantum attacks and can be deployed quickly across networks and data.
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