Imagine a technology that could undo all encryption on the internet. It would be impossible to trust transmitted information, impossible to verify any identity. The security of our society and our economies would crumble.
That is the potential threat from the future Quanta Computers. For all the best that Quanta Computer promises – eradicating diseases, understanding climate change, identifying new molecules and materials – in the wrong hands, it could pose an existential risk to classic computers and existing technologies. Fault tolerance Quanta Computers with sufficient computing power would be enough to unravel all of the cryptography used in the modern Internet.
This threat is especially relevant when it comes to blockchain. In view of the transparency, security and reduced costs, more and more companies are using blockchain technology. 84% of the companies had some involvement in blockchain in 2018. Quantum threatens the very structure of the distributed ledger, with the ability to destroy everything that secure, decentralized and transparent networks stand for.
The strengths – and weaknesses – of blockchains
Quantum Computing is not going to destroy blockchains by itself. Instead, it threatens to destroy the security features on which they are based; the characteristics that make it the unique and trusted network it is today.
As public data structures that rely heavily on cryptography, blockchains are natural targets for hackers who want to exploit cryptographic vulnerabilities. Regardless of whether it is a public chain for sending, verifying and receiving cryptocurrency or a private version for companies, each one is based on blocks of data that are placed one after the other. In order for data to be included in this chain, it must be added and then verified by other members of the group.
Take the example of a private corporate block chain. When a company wants to transfer assets to another company, it puts the transaction on a block and adds that block to the chain. Other members of the community look at the block, confirm that the correct value got from Company A to Company B, and review the transaction. Once added, that transaction (or any data flow) is locked in the chain for life. It is not only kept for posterity, but so that everyone involved knows exactly where this data comes from. The latter is particularly useful for supply chains or tracking the origin of ingredients in food or materials in devices.
On the plus side, this process means that the entire history is preserved, locked and protected. On the other hand, this means that the entire history and its security depends on the last block placed. If a criminal were to bypass this security and submit a fraudulent block, every point forward would be based on a modified version of history. Or worse, blockchains could “branch out” with different parties having different versions of the past. It would be unclear which parties owned valuable assets that could potentially allow criminals to steal what does not belong to them.
This is bad enough when the data stored on the blockchain is financial, not to mention the technology is being adopted by healthcare providers, governments, and even used to underpin the digital data of entire countries – all avenues that are being explored could and will.
How Quanta breaks the chain
In its current form, the security used to protect each of these blocks is tough and resistant to traditional cracking methods. Yet it faces a serious threat; one that has already been proven – the threat of Quanta-based algorithms. These algorithms can and will crack such keys, and will eventually do so with relative ease. That said, it’s only a matter of time before it’s robust Quanta Computers currently under development will be able to crack ever larger keys. Something Estimates Place that moment in just five to ten years.
The only way to keep blockchains secure is to protect them with Quanta-secure cryptographic keys in the first place; Keys that are impenetrable even by the fastest and most advanced Quanta Computers that we can imagine today. Fight Quanta With Quanta.
The only way to keep blockchains secure is to protect them with Quanta-secure cryptographic keys first … To fight Quanta With Quanta.
In one paper, released this month with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Tecnológico de Monterrey, we’ve developed a proof of concept that can be built as a layer on top of existing blockchain technologies. This layer relies on CQC’s IronBridge platform to deliver proven, QuantaEvidence keys addressing two particular vulnerabilities uncovered in blockchain technology. These are the internet communication between blockchain nodes and blockchain transaction signatures that are used by companies to verify their identity when submitting transactions or validating blocks.
By ‘Quanta-proof ‘we refer to keys that are generated with Quanta Computers that inherit the randomness of Quanta Mechanics. These keys are not only completely unpredictable for you Quanta Attackers, but they are also based on algorithms believed to be unbreakable Quanta Computers. This technology, available through CQC’s IronBridge platform, works even to a limited extent today Quanta Computers that currently exist and without ever affecting the functionality of a blockchain. It is the first time that such a solution has been built and tested this way.
However, because the same remedial actions are required to secure a blockchain as any other technology, the work we’ve done here isn’t limited to just blockchains. It has enormous potential.
However, the system is not perfect. It’s much more efficient for Quanta Cryptography should be built into the bones of blockchain technology rather than layering it on top of it. Hopefully this research will encourage blockchain vendors to adopt earlier Quanta-Proof algorithms and key generation.
Others are approaching that Quanta Cyber security threat in different ways. Companies like British Telecom and Toshiba are investigating how to use keys Quanta Physics; a process known as Quanta Key Distribution (QKD). These QKD systems are still in their infancy, with many technical challenges, but they show promise as another area in which Quanta will strengthen cybersecurity.
The threat to blockchains from Quanta Computing is neither new nor will it be launched in the next few months. But we take every small step towards faster, cheaper Quanta Computers bring it more into focus today. It might take five years, it could be 15 years, but the sooner we protect blockchains and get the basics right today, the better they – and we – will be protected in the future.
Duncan Jones is Head of Quantum Cybersecurity at Cambridge Quantum.