Google researchers claim to have achieved “quantum supremacy,” leading some cryptocurrency supporters to question the impact of quantum computing on blockchain security.
Quantum Supremacy Achieved
On Sept. 20 the Financial Times reported that a team of researchers from Google, led by John Martinis, had managed to achieve what they called “quantum supremacy.” The researchers characterized it as a breakthrough “milestone towards full-scale quantum computing” which will allow for computations beyond what today’s most powerful supercomputers are capable of.
According to the report, the researchers calculated a problem in three minutes that would have taken a conventional supercomputer 10,000 years to complete. The researchers also concluded that quantum computing’s capacity will be able to expand at a “double exponential rate,” far surpassing the current doubling applied by Moore’s law.
What Quantum Computing Means for Bitcoin
While bitcoin’s blockchain has been immutable thus far, many view quantum computing as potential kryptonite. Quantum computing would allow for a user to disrupt cryptocurrencies in a number of ways, starting with the private keys generated by most blockchains.
Even tech-savvy US presidential hopeful Andrew Yang has drawn attention to the impact of quantum computing on encryption, with a page outlining his views,
Quantum computers, using qubits, will theoretically be able to perform the calculations necessary to break our current encryptions standards in under a day. When that happens, all of our encrypted data will be vulnerable. That means our businesses, communications channels, and banking and national security systems may be accessible.
However, researchers into cryptography have begun to work on strategies to combat such a situation, calling them “quantum-resistant blockchains.”
Johann Polecsak, CTO of QAN, explained how his company is working to defend against the negative impact of quantum computations against cryptocurrency. Polecsak told news outlet Bitcoin.com:
The most popular public-key algorithms are theoretically at risk of being broken by a quantum computing breakthrough. Most encrypted data intercepted and stored today could be decrypted by quantum computers in the near future.
Polecsak also cautioned against over-hyping Google’s breakthrough, saying that it sounds “very dramatic,” but in reality, it’s difficult to gauge the significance.
QAN employs a protocol referred to as post-quantum cryptography to protect signatures and hashes that would otherwise be susceptible to computing-based vectors of attack. While QAN is only one company working towards combating the impact of quantum computing, most believe that the industry will shift to address the issue as it becomes more apparent.
Early bitcoin core developer Peter Todd weighed in on social media noting it isn’t even clear yet we’ll be able to scale quantum computers ot the point they’re able to break encryption on top cryptocurrencies.
It means nothing because Google's quantum breakthrough is for a primitive type of quantum computing that is nowhere near breaking cryptography.
We still don't even know if it's possible to scale quantum computers; quite possible that adding qbits will have an exponential cost. https://t.co/wSmO6ycaJk
— Peter Todd (@peterktodd) September 24, 2019
At present, cryptocurrencies’ blockchains are safe from computational vectors, but that could change for bitcoin and other assets in the future with the rise of quantum computing.
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