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Blockchain and Encryption: The Coming Quantum Wars

By Dick Weisinger

The sum value of all cryptocurrencies amounts to a pretty penny — Bitcoin alone has a market cap in the range of one trillion dollars. An advantage of cryptocurrencies is that they operate without a middleman. There is no bank with a master tally of the net value for any of the crypto holdings. Instead that information is totally public, although it is encrypted.

But many people say encryption is the weak link of cryptocurrencies and will lead to its downfall. The problem is that while encryption methods used today are currently highly secure and aren’t currently threatened, quantum computers of the future may be able to easily crack today’s codes, causing the market for holding cryptocurrencies to collapse.

David Williams, Chairman and CEO at Arqit, said that there are “critical issues that must be addressed and prioritized to ensure all digital assets are secure against quantum computer attacks. With mass digitization of almost every aspect of our society already underway, and a number of governments considering the launch of their own digital currencies, this is now a global issue.

But Joël Alwen, the chief cryptographer of Wickr, said that it’s too early to worry. “Despite all of the marketing hype around quantum computing and “quantum supremacy”, the world isn’t quite at the stage where the largest (publicly disclosed) quantum computer can meaningfully break current encryption standards. That may happen in the future, but commercially available quantum computers now cannot meaningfully dent the encryption standards cryptocurrencies are built on.”

Despite Alwen’s reassurance, there are near weekly announcements of quantum breakthroughs related to materials, hardware and algorithms. It is better to be prepared now for any future surprises.

Duncan Jones, head of quantum cybersecurity at Cambridge Quantum, wrote that “the only way to keep blockchains safe is to protect them with quantum-proof cryptographic keys in the first place; keys that are impenetrable from even the fastest, most advanced quantum computers we can envision today. To fight quantum with quantum.”

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