With the popularity of cryptocurrencies on the rise, specialists in the area worry about how, when it comes about, quantum computers will threaten blockchain technology, which at the moment still lacks reliable data security.
Quantum computers are our future, not just with cryptocurrency but in all areas of life, though the fear that they could — in the realm where they are seen as being of most use at the moment — crack the cryptography which blockchains use for security.
The threat is a real one.
However, some scientists believe the only way to counter this is to use quantum blockchains as a wall against the threat.
A simple case of ‘like for like’.
Like Sheep in the Brain
My whole interest in Bitcoin mining came about after an acquaintance— who takes it quite seriously — introduced me to his ‘side job’ in 2016: at the time I was working as a copywriter and English teacher at the language school he owned and ran with his wife. I had my own classroom. Next to the classroom was a teachers’ room, where we had our registers, textbooks and other educational resources.
It was summer. Most of the semester-time courses had finished. This meant the language school was quieter than at any other time during the year. As the demand was less, and there were fewer lessons, my acquaintance expropriated ‘his’ teachers’ room for July and August. Anyway, to cut a long story short, one day when I came in for lessons and was heading up the stairs, I heard this irritating ‘humming’ sound coming from the teachers’ room.
Being the nosy person that I am, I had an eyeball. Inside the room, on the tables and floor, were five Bitcoin GPU miners. I knew what they were, but had never seen them in the flesh before.
I asked my acquaintance what he was doing and that got me hooked.
A month or so later, and after some initial conversations with him, I ordered a cheap 21 Bitcoin Computer off of Amazon. My acquaintances GPUs were a higher speck and a lot more expensive which he had bought from China. That, however, didn’t bother me. I was just going to see how it worked out. It was all for a bit of fun, a hobby interest.
I was chuffed: for a few hundred pounds I thought I was going to be rich.
Big chance of that!
The running costs of it, and the ludicrous noise it created, made the 50 Gigahash per second machine not really a good investment. Although my acquaintance was teaching me all the ins and outs of Bitcoin mining, I soon became disillusioned with it — mainly due to my partner and daughter becoming sick of the racket it was making in the spare bedroom (and my child screaming ‘it sounds like sheep in my brain’)— and within a month, I switched the machine off, selling it online for a much lower price than I had purchased it for.
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop my interest in it, and I would regularly — and still do, in fact — read articles on the industry.
In its essence, a blockchain is a structure of mathematical code which is able to organize and store data safely and securely. Bitcoin, the popular cryptocurrency that is undergoing a boom of late, uses blockchain technology to organize and archive its transactions in that currency.
Notwithstanding Bitcoin and other financial data tools, blockchains have the potential to store any kind of data, though. Many predict blockchains will be the dominant technology in many fields in the coming years. Yet this doesn’t come without some doubts and reservations.
Standard cryptographic functions are the nursemaid of blockchains. To breach the data in them takes powerful computers and resources which, at the moment at least, are out of reach for the majority. Even the smartest, most expensive and up-to-date computer does not have the power, nor the speed, to crack the standard cryptographic functions…
Yet the tide is turning.
Q System One Quantum Computer
Quantum computers are the new dawn. Only recently, IBM Research announced it had created the Q System One quantum computer, which it states on its YouTube channel:
‘enables universal approximate superconducting quantum computers to operate outside the research lab for the first time.’
Exciting news for tech boffins and the future. IBM also added:
‘It’s a major step forward in the commercialization of quantum computing, which could one day enable breakthroughs in such areas as materials and drug discovery, financial services, and artificial intelligence.’
With the inception of this revolutionary technology, standard cryptographic functions — and any other level of security used to protect blockchain — will become an easy target for contravention and other kinds of attack from outside the system.
To foil this threat, and ease the worries of those with a vested interest in blockchain and cryptocurrencies, scientists agree the only way to combat this is by creating quantum blockchains — for though quantum computers can crack regular blockchains, quantum computers cannot break the cryptographic codes of quantum blockchains, and this is why many advocate adding quantum cryptography to blockchains already.
Industry professionals, however, believe there is a far simpler solution to this conundrum: Quantum cryptography, in its very essence, just adds one more level of encryption to the standard blockchain, which does not make a blockchain unbreachable to hackers as long as the quantum computers they are using have the capability to break the code for the quantum blockchain initiated.
Einsteinian Theory 2.0
Del Rajan, a Ph.D. Student School of Mathematics and Statistics at the Victoria University of Wellington, along with his supervisor, Professor Matt Visser, propose ‘making the whole blockchain a quantum phenomenon’.
They suggest — heading into the world of hardcore science fiction and Einsteinian theory — using quantum particles that are, in their very essence, entangled in time. ‘Quantum entanglement’ happens when two particles become intertwined, and from that connection they remain a single entity, or system, disregarding the spatial proximity to each other.
Applying this theory — because that is all it is at the moment in the minds of the two Wellington-based, NZ scientists — would allow a process of encoding to begin, where a single quantum particle could stamp the history of other particles on it. Hacking this particle to gain access to the encrypted data on its predecessors would be impossible without destroying the original quantum particle and blockchain.
This arrangement, nevertheless, depends on the laws of physics to assure a high level of security.
To understand how this can work, and therefore be applied from the theoretical models issued, it is first important to understand the fundamental quality of a blockchain. In plain English, a blockchain is a log, or an account book, which can evidence different kinds of information. For example, those of financial transactions or an account book ledger. The information is then added to a database, otherwise called a block. This process is repeated until said time, when — using a mathematical tool called a ‘hashing function’ — the information is encrypted. The procedure of hashing creates a unique number which is an exact mirror image of the data.
The process is repeated: more information is added to the ‘block’ with the next round of transactions before being, by the hashing function again, encrypted once more as a unique number. And a block and a block and a block. And so a chain of blocks.
What makes blockchains a low-risk target for cybercriminals is contemporary computers lack the computational power needed to hack the data set out by the hashing function. Trying to change, or even corrupt, records organized by the hashing function, a least at the moment, is impossible.
Yet, with the advent of quantum computers, this conundrum will be solved or, at the very least, be much easier to crack. A nightmare scenario for banks, dealers in cryptocurrency and others with a vested interest in the new technology.
The solution conceived by Rajan and Visser, as already discussed, is directed toward creating a quantum version of the blockchain, which at its essence is based on the quantum entanglement theory. If a hacker, then, for some reason tries to interfere with the ‘connection’, or the particle entanglement, the result is the destruction of the link, guaranteeing the security of the blockchain. The particles entangled are influenced by the overall temporal and spatial possibilities.
With this influence of the particles’ entanglement established across all spatial and temporal circumstances, meaning quantum theory allows for things to be influenced in the past, rather than just in the intuitive notion of local realism and causality.
The two scientists believe this type of quantum entanglement will be enough to secure quantum blockchains by encoding data on a quantum particle. In this state, they would establish a quantum block by always adding to it. As more data is then connected to the first quantum particle, the data is subsequently merged with the second particle of the entanglement until all the encoded data is on the second particle. The first particle is then dumped and the proceeding record of data is merged to create a block.
Blocks and blocks equal a chain.
Quantum entanglement is secure as any attempt to hack into the chain will automatically compromise it. Blocks ‘created’ earlier, too, are completely secure and inaccessible as they do not exist.
Take a deep breath before your brain explodes!
This is all heavy stuff and very nerdy, I know, and seems like it was taken out of a chapter of a Philip K. Dick novel, but if the theoretical model works as planned, the threat of quantum computers and the potential dangers they could have to contemporary blockchains would be a non-starter.
So, children, just maybe the ideas first espoused by the learned bunch of Einstein, Schrödinger, Podolsky and Rosen in the twentieth century could save the world’s future cryptocurrency moguls from a valley of tears.