Blockchain and Quantum Computing: Real Distributed Ledger Technology Security Threats?

Tackling Blockchain security threats from Quantum Computing

Blockchain technology has found applications in a wide range of cases due to the safety and security provided by its immutable nature and difficulty to hack. Sensitive information such as identity, medical and government data have continued to find their way into blockchains which offer superior features to traditional systems. In their current form, blockchain technologies employ powerful cryptography that is almost impossible to decrypt even with today’s most powerful computers. However, Quantum Computing, a developing technology that uses principles of quantum physics for data processing pauses a new threat to the security of blockchain networks. In order to stay ahead of the game, scientists and developers are already looking into ways to improve on blockchain to shield it from the potential risks. Quantum blockchains are a new form of decentralized networks that is being developed as a possible solution.

Quantum Computing

The world is experiencing technological advancements at an exponential rate. Computers are becoming more and more powerful while getting smaller in size. Quantum computing advances this technology further making it possible to complete tasks in minutes, tasks that would otherwise take today’s computers weeks to complete. The enhanced processing power is what poses a threat to blockchain technologies. The best of today’s computing power would take years to decrypt blockchain’s cryptography making it unviable. Quantum computers will have the capability to complete the same task within a much smaller timeframe making current blockchain security features insufficient.

Quantum computing is set to drive a new wave of innovations across various industries from manufacturing, transport, medicine, energy and many more. The technology is still in its early stages of development and scientists estimate that it may still take several years before it can get mass applications. However, a growing number of companies are investing in quantum computing systems for practical use.

Quantum Computing as a Threat to Blockchain

Blockchain technology uses a long series of random characters called keys (private keys and public keys) to show information on ownership of cryptocurrencies. Public keys allow users to receive cryptocurrencies while private keys give control to users allowing them to send cryptocurrencies. Most currently used keys are based on the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) which provides security based on the assumption that no computer, no matter how powerful, can factor large numbers in human amounts of time. Public and private keys are linked cryptographically. It would take a great amount of time to decrypt a public key in order to get its corresponding private key. With Quantum computing, it will be much easier to do this.

The security risks of quantum computing are not limited to cryptocurrency wallets. According to Mark Pesce, an innovator, most current applications including emails, password protected accounts and websites use the same encryption technique. This, he says, makes us vulnerable to Quantum Computing at an even larger scale and informs the need to reevaluate how security is provided in cryptocurrencies and other areas as well.

Integration of Quantum Computing into Blockchain

Pesce suggests that Quantum computing will create a need to upgrade all existing encryption and security standards. Existing blockchains would also require to be reset with new encryptions that are resistant to Quantum Computing. A report by MIT Technology review reported that Quantum Computers could not break quantum cryptographic codes. This creates an opportunity for blockchains and other applications to develop and incorporate security features that are resistant to quantum computers.

Rajan and Visser from Victoria University of Wellington proposed a more disruptive solution that involves the development of blockchains as Quantum phenomenon from the ground up. The technique uses the concept of entanglement. In quantum physics, two particles that are entangled share the same existence such that changes in one of the particles would result in a change in the particles it is entangled with. The principle applies even for entangled particles that exist at different time points.

Rajan and Visser’s idea recommends building of blockchains using temporally entangled blockchains. In this blockchain, data would be encoded in quantum particles. When more transaction data is available, it is combined with data from the first particle in the quantum operation that entangles it with the second particle. The first particle is then discarded and records of the first block combined with the second block. Data from a subsequent block is added in the same way creating a chain. This technique means the ledgers are stored in time rather than space making it impossible to hack even with quantum computers. Additionally, tampering with previous blocks would be impossible since they are removed and no longer exist after being entangled with subsequent blocks.

Other technologies that have been proposed to shield blockchains include “The previously vetted, probably secure Extended Merkle Signature Scheme (XMSS)” for quantum resistant ledgers. The digital reserve and IOTA networks have also developed measures protecting them against quantum attacks. The industry however, still has a long way to go in developing a suitable solution even as quantum computing gets nearer.

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