A graduate student’s research in the field of quantum computing has revealed that Bitcoin’s SHA-256 algorithm can be cracked within a decade by a quantum computer that’s about a million times more powerful than the latest model.
According to Mark Webber, a researcher from the Ion Quantum Technology Group at the University of Sussex, UK, the SHA-256 algorithm as deployed on Bitcoin can be cracked by breaking into the encryption through a 10-minute window, requiring a quantum computer with 1.9 billion qubits or quantum bits. If the window for breaking is expanded to an hour, the requirement drops to 317 million qubits.
The Ion Quantum Technology Group is a research organization supported by the University of Sussex. Their field of research involves quantum computing and microwave quantum sensors. The cryptographic algorithm of Bitcoin was designed by Satoshi Nakamoto based on existing research for SHA-256 security protocols first published by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) at the turn of the century.
Bitcoin’s encryption algorithm was designed to resist attacks from within its blockchain, such that it would require a coordinated attack from 51% of miners to control the network’s hash rate and render the perceived immutability of the distributed ledger defenseless. In a hypothetical situation such as this, miner control would prevent transaction confirmations, effectively slowing the network and blocking transfers and payments between user addresses.
The numbers may sound astounding and far-fetched, but the contemporary model for a superconducting quantum computer was released just two months ago: IBM’s 127 qubit ‘Eagle’ Quantum Processor. Given this latest breakthrough, the estimate from Webber and his research team would require a quantum computer that’s roughly a million times faster than the current generation.
Quantum computing works by using the fundamental quantum nature of matter at subatomic levels, fusing its mechanics to provide amplified computing power for processors designed according to its specifications. By using quantum circuits arranged through qubits into quantum gates, quantum computers such as IBM’s Eagle Quantum Processor are able to run and solve complex computations.
“People are already worried because you can save encrypted messages right now and decrypt them in the future. So there’s a big concern we need to urgently change our encryption techniques, because in the future, they’re not secure.” Webber shared.
Webber is, of course, talking about what has been dubbed as “quantum supremacy” in scientific and tech communities. Quantum supremacy refers to the threshold at which a programmable quantum device will be able to solve a problem that no other classical computer can solve in any feasible amount of time.
Recent research in quantum computing by Hartmut Neven, director of the Quantum Artificial Intelligence lab, has shown that quantum computing’s native mechanics overrides Moore’s Law, which dictates that the amount of transistors in any given microchip doubles every two years, with costs for production halved at the same time. With “Neven’s Law,” in play, quantum computing power is said to be “doubly exponential growth relative to conventional computing.”
Given these figures, Webber sees Bitcoin’s current security algorithms to be viable only for about another decade or so. It’s a likely scenario, and when it does happen, the crypto industry as we know it would need to shift and adapt to the emergence of quantum computing technology and protect Bitcoin’s legacy.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.
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