Quantum computers could threaten the security of the blockchain. These new defenses could be the answer
It may only be a matter of time before quantum computers tear up crypto keys that support sensitive data and cryptocurrencies on blockchain networks. Now Cambridge Quantum (CQ) quantum software company said to have developed a “safe quantum” method which could perpetuate any blockchain by making the system invulnerable to quantum attacks.
CQ has partnered with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and its innovation lab IDB Lab, which actively invests in blockchain technology to support social and economic applications in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Specifically, IDB Lab developed LACChain, a blockchain platform operated by more than 50 organizations in the region for use cases ranging from cross-border e-money payments to exchanging data between customs administrations in different countries.
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CQ implemented a quantum security layer for LACChain which made the system secure against future quantum computers.
To do this, CQ has deployed its own commercially available platform to protect against quantum threats, called IronBridge, on LACChain.
Blockchain’s vulnerability to quantum computers stems from its extensive reliance on cryptography.
The technology, also known as distributed ledger, is essentially a computer system in which information is securely stored, shared and synchronized between a network of participants. The system is dynamically updated through messages called transactions, and each participant can have a verified copy of the current state of the system and their entire transaction history.
For this type of decentralized data sharing system to work, strict security protocols are needed – not only to protect information and communications in the blockchain, which are often sensitive, but also to confirm the identity of participants, for example. example through digital signatures.
These protocols, for now, rely on traditional cryptographic keys, which turn information into a mush that is unreadable to anyone except the intended recipients. Cryptography keys are used to encrypt data – data which in turn can only be read by someone with the correct key to decode the message.
The strength of the encryption therefore depends on the difficulty for a malicious actor to decode the key; and to complicate the life of hackers, security protocols currently rely on algorithms such as RSA or the digital signature algorithm to generate the most complex cryptographic keys possible. These keys, in principle, can only be deciphered by overwriting huge amounts of numbers.
This is why most of the current cryptography protocols are too difficult to decode – at least with a regular computer. But quantum computers, which should one day possess exponential computing power, could eventually decipher all the security keys generated by the most established classical algorithms.
Quantum computers are still an emerging technology, and they’re far from mature enough to reveal any secrets just yet. But scientists have already identified some quantum algorithms, namely Shor’s algorithm, which have the potential to eventually break existing security protocols.
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Alexander Lvovsky, professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, says quantum computers therefore pose a threat to blockchain security processes like digital signatures.
“Using Shor’s algorithm, a quantum attacker is able to compute a user’s private key based on their signed message, which is impossible to do with conventional computers, and in this way spoof the identity of any party it chooses, “says Lvovsky. ZDNet.
Quantum computers in the hands of a hacker could have dramatic consequences for the critical information currently stored. For example, hundreds of billions of dollars denominated in cryptocurrencies are based on blockchain ledgers and the World Economic Forum estimates that 10% of GDP could be stored in blockchains by 2027.
It could one day be threatened by quantum attacks. Recent analysis from Deloitte estimates a quarter of all bitcoin could be stolen with a quantum attack, which currently represents over $ 40 billion.
CQ and IDB have therefore teamed up to deploy what is called “post-quantum cryptography” in the blockchain – a form of cryptography suited to a world in which quantum computers are no longer a thing of the future.
There are different ways to approach post-quantum cryptography, but essentially all approaches are to make cryptography keys more difficult to decipher, even for quantum computers. To do this, you need an extra dose of randomness, or entropy. A purely randomly generated key, in fact, is much more difficult to decode than a key which is the product of a mathematical operation – which can be reverse engineered by a powerful computer.
And while classical algorithms rely on mathematics, quantum computers can exploit a special non-deterministic property of quantum mechanics to generate this true randomness. CQ took advantage of this to create the IronBridge platform, which harnesses these quantum processes to create random numbers and create additional secure cryptographic keys.
IronBridge has been used successfully in LACChain to protect communications as well as to secure digital signatures. “The LACChain blockchain was an ideal target for keys generated by our IronBridge platform,” says Duncan Jones, head of quantum cybersecurity at CQ. “Only keys generated from certified quantum entropy can be resistant to the threat of quantum computing.”
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CQ has deployed IronBridge as a “layer two” service, which means that it is in addition to the original architecture of the LACChain blockchain and therefore could be adapted to other systems.
Even though large-scale quantum computers are still a long way off, the announcement should address the concerns of blockchain users. Whether it’s five, 10, or 15 years from now, a quantum computer could decipher the security protocols that protect information today, meaning that sensitive information currently stored on the blockchain is still at risk from future hacking.
“The security currently used in most blockchains is vulnerable to quantum attacks,” Itan Barmes, quantum specialist at Deloitte, told ZDNet. “No one knows when these attacks will become feasible. Estimates vary between five and 30 years. On the other hand, the migration to a quantum-secure solution is also expected to take years, so ignoring the problem takes unnecessary risk.”
The blockchain is not the only one helping to prepare the future of crypto. Governments around the world are also rushing to develop post-cryptography protocols, amid fears that defense and national security information will one day be revealed by quantum computers.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Center has argued for many years that reliance on classic cryptography must end, for example; while in the United States, the National Security Agency is currently studying a number of algorithms that could improve the resiliency of cryptographic keys.