Can governments stop Bitcoin with quantum computers?

Most governments like Bitcoin (CRYPTO: BTC) as much as we like to walk with pebbles in our shoes. Recent ransomware attacks, where hackers have targeted vulnerable infrastructure such as gas pipelines and demanded ransom in the form of Bitcoin, add even more scrutiny to the cryptocurrency. There are also numerous regulatory controls on the use of Bitcoin for illicit activities and money laundering. Additionally, the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining has spiraled out of control in recent years and poses a direct threat to climate change initiatives.

The rise of quantum computing may soon give governments a way to crack down on Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrencies. The information encoded in super “quantum” computers, called qubits, exists in infinite states due to what is called superposition, because there are an infinite number of decimal numbers between 0 and 1, which greatly improves their speed compared to binary computer systems. Governments could potentially decrypt digital currencies or launch hashing attacks to take control of their network for a regulatory shutdown with these machines. Let’s analyze this risk in detail.

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Bitcoin Cryptography in Two Minutes

Before understanding Bitcoin’s quantum vulnerability to government surveillance, we must first understand how the network works. Consider this first basic analogy for encryption of digital currencies: draw two dots on a circle and label them A and B. Then draw a series of intermediate dots on the circle (C, D, E, etc.) and connect a line through all these points from A to B. Points A and B are visual representations of the Public key to his wallet address while the number of steps it took to go from A to B are representations Private key. To an outside observer, there are nearly endless paths one can take from A to B, and it would take until the end of time to guess the correct path with ordinary computers. Bitcoin’s cryptography is similar, except it uses elliptic curves, which are harder to crack, in a process called the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) to secure its wallets.

Then consider this analogy to understand the vulnerability of hashing attacks: try to open a three-digit combination padlock without knowing the password (no bolt cutters allowed). The puzzle itself (known as SHA-256) isn’t complex at all, but it takes a lot of tries to find the right combination. It’s similar to miners verifying obfuscated bitcoin transactions, except the network uses a secure process to ensure they aren’t compromised. What’s different is that the difficulty is variable and can reach ridiculously large numbers.

The impending quantum invasion

Let’s go back to the two examples. Cracking both ECDSA or SHA-256 is simple but repetitive: someone guesses a possible path or combination, tries it, and it’s either good or bad. But imagine being able to trace all possible solutions to the combination lock and then try them. everything at once. That’s what a quantum computer can do.

Keep in mind that it takes a quantum computer of 5,000 qubits to break into Bitcoin’s encryption and resolve the private keys. Currently, the most advanced quantum computers can only achieve 66 qubits because their quantum states are very difficult to control. So the idea of ​​any government’s quantum computers cracking your crypto wallets should be the least of your worries for at least the next 100 years.

Should I be worried?

Fortunately, crypto is an area that overwhelmingly favors the defender, not the attacker. JThe fear and uncertainty of quantum computing is quite remote given its slow development and the ability of the Bitcoin network to evolve to withstand attacks, such as encryption upgrades. Remember that there are other priorities governments might want to use their quantum computers for, as many hacking and ransomware incidents still occur beyond the Bitcoin world.

However, the same cannot be said for other, less solidly developed altcoins wwith much lower network hash rates than Bitcoin. This would mean that even a less sophisticated quantum computer can launch 51% hashing attacks (meaning it only needs to control 51% of the network’s mining power) against them. Ultimately, don’t be surprised if the United States Securities and Exchange Commission gets its hands on it and uses it to start shutting down some of the delinquent regulatory cryptocurrencies as soon as possible.

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Sun Zhiyuan owns shares of bitcoin. The Motley Fool owns stocks and recommends Bitcoin. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Darcy J. Skinner