Quantum hackers can bring down Bitcoin: expert

NEW YORK – $ 3 trillion in cryptocurrency assets are, or soon will be, vulnerable to being hacked by quantum computers, one of China’s top cryptographers said during an Asia Times webinar on the 30th. November.

You won’t know if this happens until it’s too late, explained Professor Jintao Ding of Tsinghua University. And the best thing about the Bitcoin hack, he explained, is that it’s not against the law.

Crypto analysts have been concerned about the quantum invasion for some time. Motley fool’s Zhiyuan Sun wrote in September: “The rise of quantum computing may soon give governments a way to crack down on Bitcoin and other types of cryptocurrency … Governments could potentially decrypt digital currencies or launch hash attacks to take control of their network for a regulatory shutdown with these machines. “

“Most governments love Bitcoin as much as we love walking with stones in our shoes,” Sun added. No government loves Bitcoin as much as China, which banned onshore cryptocurrency trading in 2019 and banned Chinese people from trading offshore crypto exchanges last September.

“Our modern information system relies entirely on public key cryptography, including Bitcoin,” Ding told the “Data Wars” webinar, co-sponsored by American Affairs magazine and Asia Times. “If we had a quantum computer, our Zoom would be finished, and everything in fact – the whole information system, because our fundamental security solution depends on it. “

Public key cryptography based on the RSA standard has been in use since the late 1970s. Each user has a public key for identification and a private key (a password) for decryption.

The public key is based on two very large prime numbers, which are secret; only the recipient knows the prime numbers, which are necessary to decipher the message. By factoring extremely large numbers into prime numbers, decryption of the private key requires factoring extremely large numbers into prime numbers, which is time consuming for supercomputers.

Quantum cryptography is the science that harnesses the properties of quantum mechanics to perform cryptographic tasks. Photo: Facebook

As computers get faster, cryptography uses larger numbers. But quantum computers will be able to factor extremely large numbers into prime numbers very quickly. Maybe they already can, but if so, no one is saying it yet.

Today’s encryption methods “can be broken by quantum computers.” We need to work together to have a smooth transition from the current situation and find a solution. We need to. And the transition process will be very difficult, ”Ding added.

Mathematicians have known that quantum computers would be able to quickly crack RSA code since 1994, when Peter Shor published an algorithm for factoring extremely large numbers into prime numbers.

The development of such a quantum computer is inevitable, argues Ding. There are rumors in the tech world that machines capable of using Shor’s algorithm to break RSA already exist.

When will this happen? It may have happened before, but if it has, no one is going to suggest it, Ding explained.

“Watch the movie ‘Imitation Game’ on [Alan] Turing ”, the great British mathematician who led the team that broke the German Enigma code during WWII. British Signals Intelligence (GCHQ) did not reveal until the 1970s that it could read German coded messages in near real time during World War II. “If I can read every message, why wouldn’t I be silent about it?” I would be in a very good position. I think that’s what I would do, “he said.

In 2019, I published a spy thriller in Asia Times under the title The Quantum Supremacy, based on such a storyline.

What does this mean for Bitcoin ?, I asked Ding during the webinar.

He replied, “That’s a very good question. In my opinion, once you have a quantum computer, the blockchain and bitcoin are done. Let me expand a bit. You don’t own Bitcoin. The owner is your private key. When they give you the money, they give it to an address. The address is a short form of your public key. They use it to verify the address. Only you have the private key; everyone knows the public key to verify that it comes from you.

“When they give you the money, they give it to an address,” Ding said. “The address is a short form of your public key. We use it to check when you give me the parts. But if I don’t know the key of the private part, if I only know the address. I can’t take anything.

“But if I have a quantum computer,” Ding continued, “what I would do first is get all the parts, because there’s no liability in that. I wouldn’t attack. not the banks — so there’s a big lawsuit, or you’ll go to jail. But with a quantum computer, I’m just taking Bitcoin. It’s legal in my opinion. I didn’t do anything; I just saw your public key, use your private key, and allocate the money to my own account.

Quantum computers could make Bitcoin a thing of the past. Image: AFP

This is the downside of anonymity. Your name and government ID number are not linked to a Bitcoin account (as they are to a regular bank account). Your proof of ownership is simply the fact that you have the private key (your password). If someone else hacks this, you have no legal recourse.

Bitcoins have another vulnerability, Ding said. “When I make a transaction, there is a 10 minute delay because we have to confirm the transaction. During that time, if your transaction is delayed, if people have a quantum computer, then they can make a new transaction to replace your transaction, and then they can send all the funds to themselves. Then you are done. They can just take all of your Bitcoin right away.

The professor doesn’t think the cryptocurrency world’s efforts to improve security will do much good. “Bitcoin made an update called Taproot,” he said. “It’s actually very bad because in this case, because they are very prone to attack from the content in it.” Taproot creates an interface between Bitcoin and regular cash transactions, in order to reduce transaction costs.

If there are quantum computers capable of hacking your crypto account, they are in the hands of governments or large corporations with the resources to build them. If and when such quantum computers are functional, their owners will not attract attention by stealing individual Bitcoin accounts.

If a state actor were to hack cryptocurrency transactions, they would almost certainly use this ability to monitor the ownership of those assets for intelligence purposes. Knowing who is trying to hide money or transfer money away from the scrutiny of regulators would give any country’s intelligence services enormous political clout.

But if the entire $ 3 trillion crypto market were to disintegrate, no one would be happier than China, which wants to promote its own digital yuan at the expense of anonymously traded Bitcoins.

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