Government agencies are increasingly focus their efforts on developing new technologies to keep the cryptocurrency industry in check. According to applied mathematician Peter Shor, government agencies would be the first to utilize quantum computers and break algorithms keeping technologies like Bitcoin and the Internet secure.
Talking during an interview with Nature Magazine, Shor warns about the possibilities of quantum computers cracking encryption keys, called “RSA,” that keep cryptocurrencies safe from various threats to its security.
The MIT professor believes that if there’s anyone who can crack the RSA first, it will be agencies the National Security Agency (NSA).
“The first people who break RSA either are going to be NSA or some other big organization. At first, these computers will be slow. If you have a computer that can only break, say, one RSA key per hour, anything that’s not a high priority or a national-security risk is not going to be broken. The NSA has much more important things to use their quantum computer on than reading your e-mail — they’ll be reading the Chinese ambassador’s e-mail.”
The cryptocurrency has been closely keeping an eye on developments in quantum computing as these systems could employ an algorithm to decipher every private key on a blockchain network, thus rendering that network’s users vulnerable to hacking and theft.
“The sheer calculating ability of a sufficiently powerful and error-corrected quantum computer means that public-key cryptography is ‘destined to fail,’ and would put the technology used to protect many of today’s fundamental digital systems and activities at risk,” Shor warns.
The study regarding these risks began as early as 2017. Divesh Aggarwal of the National University of Singapore and his colleagues were the first to conclude this. They warned:
“The elliptic curve signature scheme used by Bitcoin is much more at risk and could be completely broken by a quantum computer as early as 2027.”
Even though present-day quantum computers are not able to break blockchains and their underlying cryptography, the threat is imminent in the future. Similar opinions were also voiced by Ripple CTO David Schwartz, who said:
“I think we have at least eight years. I have very high confidence that it’s at least a decade before quantum computing presents a threat, but you never know when there could be a breakthrough. I’m a cautious and concerned observer, I would say.”
Even though quantum computing technologies still aren’t powerful enough, the threat still remains. With government agencies already spending resources to crack privacy-enhanced cryptocurrencies, it is highly likely that they would utilize quantum computers as well when they are ready.