Bitcoin’s race to outrun the quantum computer
Want to steal some Bitcoin? All you need to do is find your victim’s 16-character public key and calculate their private key by solving something called an “elliptic curve discrete logarithm problem.” No sweat! With a regular computer, that’ll take you around 50 million times the amount of time the universe itself has left—around 0.65 billion billion years.
Ah, but with the right quantum computer, able to process information at speeds exponentially faster than today’s supercomputers? Suddenly, what seems uncrackable becomes child’s play, able to be broken in under 10 minutes.
The quantum-computing problem is nothing new to crypto, and many experts believe we have at least a decade or more to come up with quantum-resistant cryptography. However, some observers say that recent and unexpectedly fast advances are causing the time horizon to dramatically shrink. The most aggressive estimate says that bitcoin will be hackable by 2027, according to Fact Based Insights.
“We moved the state of the art more in the last two years than it has progressed in the last 15 or 20,” says Stewart Allen, Chief Operating Officer at IonQ, a company that claims to make some of the most powerful quantum computers in the world, in an interview with Decrypt.
On Thursday, top cryptographers will meet in Santa Barbara at the University of California for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Post Quantum Cryptography semi finals. The finalists of the NIST competition will be announced in the months after the conference, though it might take years before the winner is annointed. Cryptographers say the standards that result represent blockchain’s best hope for resisting the rapidly encroaching power of quantum computers.
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