Alex Beath, a Toronto-based physicist and pension fund analyst, is skeptical about Bitcoin but sees one useful purpose for the crypto-currency: It may detect when someone creates a working quantum rekentuig.
“The 2nd someone creates a viable quantum rekentuig, the NP-complete math problems at the heart of Bitcoin mining tech become instantly solvable,” Beath notes. “In other words, one response to the question ‘what’s the very first thing you’d do with a quantum pc?’ is ‘mine all of the remaining Bitcoin instantly.’ Until that happens, nobody has a quantum rekentuig.”
Beath’s off-the-cuff observation, which he made te response to a Fortune query about the security of bitcoin, is amusing. But it also underscores a serious problem: Namely, a fresh era of computing is fast-approaching and when it arrives, the system that talent rise to many crypto-currency fortunes will collapse.
This threat to Bitcoin and other software systems that use the same underlying encryption technique—a technology likely to crumble te the face of a quantum-based attack—is not fresh. Indeed, it wasgoed predicted decades ago, and Ethereum founder (and former reporter) Vitalik Buterin wrote about how to defend it ter 2013.
The difference today, however, is that companies like Microsoft, Google and IBM are making rapid breakthroughs that could make quantum computing viable te less than Ten years.
Right now, engineers are stymied overheen how to deploy enough “qubits” (a quantum version of the binary bit system used ter traditional computers that lets a unit be a 0 and 1 at the same time) te a stable style.
According to CEO Louis Parks of SecureRF, which is developing quantum-resistant security systems, the number of qubits ter a machine has recently soared from 16 to 50. This is far from the Four,000 to Ten,000 that would likely be needed to crack Bitcoin’s cryptography but, at this point, Parks says quantum computing is now at stage akin to when the Wright brothers began showcasing airplanes were viable.
Ter other words, it’s not too soon for crypto-currency “hodlers” to worry about the security of their fortune. The good news is that both Beath and Buterin think it will be possible to modify digital wallets to defend against quantum attacks, tho’ doing the same for mining will be a thicker task.
The fatter kwestie ter all this, however, is Bitcoin’s future vulnerability is just a microcosm of what the entire world will face when quantum computing arrives. That’s because the same vulnerabilities are present te our online banking and shopping systems, and ter many of the computers all around us. Spil chip maven and Fortune alum Stacey Higginbotham waterput it when I asked about the threat to digital currency:
“As for the end of Bitcoin, I’d worry more about the end of cryptography and AES [Advanced Encryption Standard] encryption itself.”
Lots to chew on there — thanks for reading, and love more security and fin-tech tidbits below.