As the world continues to worry about how far artificial intelligence has come with projects like ChatGPT, Chinese researchers recently claimed to be able to crack encryption using quantum computing — something scientists assumed was years away from happening.
A group of Chinese researchers published a “scientific paper” last month that they used quantum computers to break the standard RSA algorithm used by many industries for encryption measures, including banking, mobile phones and data storage.
according to Financial TimesThe Chinese researchers said they used their algorithm to factor a 48-bit number on a quantum computer with ten qubits (quantum bits) and have not yet attempted to scale it up to work on a larger system.
While the claim raises some concerns about the state of the art in security, many experts see the breakthrough as unlikely — at least for now.
“One of our colleagues calls it the biggest fraud he’s seen in nearly 25 years,” said Andre Koenig, CEO and co-founder of Global Quantum Intelligence. Open the password in the interview. “The paper itself doesn’t really announce anything new.”
Koenig calls the paper’s claims based on hype and current methodologies and approaches, with no proof of concept to demonstrate that existing encryption standards have been successfully breached.
What is encryption?
Encryption helps protect information from being intercepted by hackers, malicious actors, or nation-states who may attempt to steal personal or financial information. This secure means of hacking and disassembling data is key to blockchains like the Bitcoin network and cryptocurrencies in general, which store things like transaction details in a decentralized ledger widely accessible over the internet.
What is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computing uses quantum mechanics to perform operations on data at speeds faster than modern computers. Many times more powerful than the average desktop computer, quantum computers are attractive in computationally demanding cryptography, but are more difficult to build, program and use. Their speed and processing power, crypto enthusiasts fear, could one day break the encryption used to protect Bitcoin.
“Some people in our industry call it Y2Q,” Konig said. “Y2Q,” Konig noted, is an unknown point in the future where quantum computing makes a major breakthrough, referring to the way it was used in the computer industry in the late 1990s. At the time, the industry viewed December 31, 1999, as the day at midnight that computers worldwide would fail and cause a global meltdown.
Koenig says that while researchers don’t know when Y2Q will happen, the industry is exploring the possibility of a day when quantum computers themselves will appear. “I think it will take about a decade for that to happen,” he said. “But if you’re one of these providers with critical data, you should be concerned about it today.”
What is the threat to Bitcoin?
Bitcoin has never been successfully hacked, but many see brute force attacks using quantum computers as a likely tool that someone would use to destroy Bitcoin.
According to cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, a brute force attack uses trial and error to guess strings such as login credentials and encryption keys, using all possible combinations in the hope of finding a match. With current technology, these attacks can take years or even decades to succeed.
Quantum computers can theoretically crack complex encryption in hours or minutes.
“It would completely and utterly destroy the market,” said David Schwed, CEO of blockchain security firm Halborn. Open the password. “But it’s not just crypto, it’s anything that’s encrypted; whether you’re breaking ECDSA (Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm) or RSA, you’ll be able to break any encryption.”
Schwed believes that if researchers were to succeed in developing quantum computing, the first target would not be cryptocurrency, but the massive repositories of leaked and stolen encrypted data that nation-states have accumulated over the years.
“[They are] they are just waiting for the day when they will decrypt those data,” he said.
“The Chinese are not going to tell us that if they can crack the encryption, they can crack the encryption,” Schwed said. “They’ll just crack the encryption and do whatever they want with it.”
Schwed and Konig agree that it would be strange for a country to announce the ability to break encryption.
Who is working on Quantum Computing?
Although quantum computers are still years away from posing a threat to encryption and cryptocurrency, several companies including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have entered the race to bring quantum computing to market.
“I think so [it’s] extremely urgent,” Konig said. “Because whether it takes five years, ten years, or even 15 years, it’s going to take a lot of money to install the slopes of your systems. So you really have to start today.”