Quantum Blockchains: A Security Innovation?

Particles Behave in Strange Ways

If you dig into resources like research.ibm, there is a wealth of knowledge on quantum information theory, quantum chips, and quantum computing basics. The use cases presented for quantum computing tease breakthrough revelations, such as the creation of new medicines or developing better synthetic materials. The guides, filmed lectures, and infographics all hint towards a brighter future. There are plenty of excellent sources sharing how quantum mechanic researchers are using a photon of light to make credit cards more secure, or about how quantum cryptography will usher in the next era of cybersecurity.

However, quantum cryptography (using physics instead of mathematics to encrypt) has been hacked on a commercial level through an “intercept and resend” attack….while gaming assumptions and leaving the affected parties none the wiser. There is a rise of publication rates for articles that predict the end of blockchain security with the onset of quantum computing, but they are one step behind and missing the elephant in the room. Current encryption methods don’t stand a chance while blockchain does.

What are the current encryption methods?

There are three standard encryption methods protecting user and company data stored and shared by applications we use daily.

Hashing uses algorithms called hash functions to generate a unique fixed-length value for each message. Hashing encryption is not reversible if intercepted by a malicious agent, and changes to a hacked message result in a different hash, which serves as an alert to tampering. Hashing can only be used to verify the security of communication and data since it is not possible to retrieve the original message. There are limited use cases for hashing, but storing passwords, verifying the identity of files, and database data partitioning are three significant ones.

The other two encryption methods rely on key systems. Private-key cryptography, otherwise known as symmetric-key cryptography relies on a single key to act as a coder and decoder. This shared-key system uses an encryption key to obfuscates plain text in messages and a related decryption key to reverse the encryption. The algorithms are fast, low complexity, and easily implemented. Private encryption provides the base for WEP and WPA encryption used to protect yourself while accessing the internet.

Public-key cryptography is asymmetric by nature, representing an algorithmic system that utilizes both private keys (known only to the owner) and public keys (easily accessible). This system uses proof of work computational stakes in a bid for cybersecurity via authentication and encryption. Digital signatures are a prime example of public-key cryptography utilizing a three algorithm scheme – key generation, signing algorithm, and signature verification algorithm.

If you look up, you’ll notice this blog is on running the data transmission protocol HTTPS. If you saw the shift from HTTP to HTTPS for website pages (and the alarming security notices some browsers barrage you with when you leave a secure site), you are observing a movement to encryption security. HTTP messages are transmitted in plaintext, while HTTPS sites, like your banking website, email, and private transactions are encrypted with a two key public system.

What threat does quantum computing present to current encryption methods?

Encryptions protecting personal data and online financials use encodings that rely on the amount of computation power, the proof-of-work, it would take to decipher a message. The strength of different encryption algorithms is dependant on key lengths. Key lengths are logarithmic. A 3-bit key is 23 which equals 2x2x2 and means that it will accept eight different keys. A key’s length is exponentially associated with how much secure data can be viewed with it. As key length increases, the amount of operations that have to be run to try all possible keys of that length increases dramatically, with 128-bit keys considered uncrackable. Grover’s Algorithm demonstrates that that level of security will be cut in half, to 64-bit key security, with quantum computing.

There is a race on developing and launching a commercially available quantum computer. Abandoning binary bits, these computers promise extraordinary computational power by introducing a third state of existence for bits. This state, called “superposition” requires quantum mechanics, which is a complete disregard for physics as we know it. Quantum bits can represent a one or a zero simultaneously. This means that calculations can be run in parallel since the superposition of two qubits represents four scenarios at once. This significantly boosts computational power, reducing the time it takes it would take a hacker to crack encryptions.

As technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning mature, we creep closer to a digital era with computers harnessing the weirdness of sub-particle physics to crunch numbers and run programs with complexity unseen today. When quantum computing enters the emergent tech ecosystem, malicious users will be able to decode the encryptions protecting your private information in a painfully short amount of time.

Access to your bank account, emails, twitter, and voicemail. The power to the ICO unit at the hospital or signaling grid in the subway. That baby monitor next door or the webcam on your laptop? Yup, easily hackable with quantum computing. The stuff of nightmares and new Black Mirror episodes.

When it comes to security around private data, including access to our financial and medical records, rejoice that quantum computing is still highly conceptual. Even so, Gartner warns CIOs to stay weary; though the technology might still be further than a decade away from actuality, digital threats backed by quantum computing are looming. The amount of damage that could be inflicted by quantum hacking public-key cryptography alone is frightening.

How does blockchain relate to standard methods of encryption used to protect our data?

Digital signatures, proof-of-work, and hashing might sound familiar if you follow crypto and blockchain development. Blockchain has many use cases in cybersecurity, financial transactions, and protecting sensitive information stored, accessed, and transmitted online because it takes the best aspects of modern-day encryption security and adds a layer of protection with peer-to-peer nodes operating on consensus with block immutability.

Amazingly, scientists have already invented quantum-resistant blockchain. To take it a step further, In April of 2018, there was a conceptual design for Quantum Blockchain using entanglement in time. This was proposed by Victoria University quantum physicists who believe that encoding blockchain into a temporal state of photons entangling time rather than space will be the savior of the blockchain.

The brilliant minds shaping the future of cryptocurrency, blockchain-based enterprise software, open-source p2p development platforms, decentralized applications, and smart contracts sleep easy because the modularity of blockchain design allows for diligence and reactivity when faced with looming security threats…like crazy powerful computers that will be able to reverse engineer through digital firewalls with ease. Blockchain researchers and developers are already laying out gameplans to face down supercomputer hackers while the encryption methods utilized by our browsers, software, and apps that host and transmit data on our most valuable assets and activities on the internet today don’t stand a chance.

If that isn’t a reason to consider blockchain a viable solution to protect yourself and your users on connected applications, I don’t know what is.



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1 Comment

abdul wadood
·   Aug 17, 2018 at 07:08 am / Reply

Great article