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Could Quantum Computing Compromise Blockchain Technology?

Although quantum computing remains a developing technology, the potential threat posed to blockchains and cryptography has taken center stage recently.

At the recent IBM Think summit, company executives opined on the credibility of the threat. Jesse Lund, Vice President of Blockchain and Digital Currencies at IBM said,

“It’s reverse engineering the private keys which represent the control of your wallet. Your public key is essentially your wallet which holds balances. And I think that’s a real, credible threat. Bitcoin is a public ledger. So you can go out and see which public keys are holding the largest balances and you could go out and target those (the hundred or thousands of bitcoin in there) and say I’m gonna spend effort (computing resource) to reverse engineer the private key from the public key, which is exposed. I think that’s even a near term threat.”

Essentially, Lund warns that unchanged, public ledgers such as the bitcoin blockchain will be compromised as any public key can be used to determine the private key with quantum computing. According to Lund, more than half of all current projects are vulnerable to quantum computing attacks.

Other executives for IBM discussed how the threat extends to virtually all encrypted systems such as smart vehicles, smart homes, and databases.

Nev Zunic, an executive at IBM, expressed that, “Companies need to be aware of quantum and the potential risk that it will bring so they can take actions today to ensure they are not hackable at some point in the life cycle of their products.” Zunic went on to elaborate:

“Another consideration is that any communications that are taking place today that are encrypted, could be intercepted today and stored for decryption at a later time. So if there’s sensitive transmissions between government bodies, organizations, financial transactions – that can be intercepted, stored and decrypted in the future. So organizations need to be aware of this today, and start taking action today, to future proof themselves against potential quantum attacks.”

Ultimately, the threat posed by quantum computing grows from inaction. Every day we do not consider the threat, is another day that more data can be collected for future decryption. Should developers of blockchain technology heed the warning, quantum-proofing their distributed ledger can occur through a soft fork. Then, any wallets that have not been updated would be vulnerable to attack. Ironically, all those people who lost their private keys may have a fighting chance of recovering their cryptos should quantum computing reach mainstream use before their accounts get plundered.