Jeff Fawkes is a seasoned investment professional and a crypto analyst. He has a dual degree in Business Administration and Creative Writing and is passionate when it comes to how technology impacts our society.
The theory goes that quantum computing could be used to crack out cryptocurrency wallets. Is this true?
What could quantum computing do to web services? Currently, there are supercomputers already in existence. They are so smart that they can find your Bitcoins by brute-forcing the seed phrases. The computers are so smart now that they can distinguish between two persons entering the same login and password on a login page, serving different e-mail inboxes. This is not a matter of what password is used, but what fingers are entering it.
What Is Quantum Computing?
Quantum computers use enormous calculating power to enable the magic of ultra-performance. However, quantum computers work differently and demand caution, so the area is more experimental than established.
In a classic computer, there are 0s and 1s as the data transmitters, called bits. The bit is the smallest unit of information. A set of differently working bits can make up the sequence containing information. In the quantum computer, the same unit of information is called a qubit. This is because, due to its quantum nature, it is not just a voltage orientation definition, it is more of a wave. This special particle full of energy has the ability to appear in two different positions simultaneously. The important thing here is that the qubit’s superposition eliminates once an observer is looking at it.
This allows the supercomputer, for instance, to test two possible options of the password instead of just one per each brute force attempt.
Also, qubits separated by distance can have similar physical properties and influence on each other.
Large Bitcoin Collider: Not a Supercomputer but Still Cool
Computer scientists from across the globe already used supercomputers (not the quantum ones) and computing networks to crack out someone’s seed phrases. This is not something you should do due to legal concerns but back in 2017, the Large Bitcoin Collider was offering the public to join collective Bitcoin private keys crackdown.
They offer anybody to participate in an act of something that can be compared with collective brute force. And personal computers of people who joined are acting as hash power.
Collective hash power is calculating random Bitcoin private keys. Such calculation may lead to the participants discovering the private keys of several people who hold bitcoins. And the trick works – they have found several addresses with small sums on them. However, most of the keys were the ‘easy ones’ containing small amounts of bitcoin thrown there on purpose. Presumably, by some secretive coder who discovered those addresses earlier.
Google’s D-Wave Is Not Almighty
Google D-Wave quantum computer raised awareness at the beginning of 2019. After some corporations started using it in business, the new machine quickly gathered the aureole of omnipotence. News outlets inspired the usual noise about bitcoin’s fast death because of the seed cracking. However, in reality, the new computer is a sector-specific calculator. Google researcher at Imperial College of London, Dragos Ilie, said:
“As you add more qubits the system becomes more and more unstable … [though] researchers can try different approaches for solving these issues so maybe there are ways to mitigate these problems but right now we are quite far from breaking bitcoin.”
It won’t perform usual tasks written for old types of computers, because it’s not the usual one. The scientists barely made it perform casual tasks. It has lots of different constants and settings to count. For instance, if cubits are in the wrong position or two of them don’t have direct contact, the logical chain falls apart.
The author of this piece is not a theoretical physicist. However, D-Wave looks like a machine that needs time before people understand how to present the tasks to it.
Is ‘Quantum Supremacy’ a Sweet Dream?
The ability of a quantum computer to solve the tasks faster than the classic dual logic computers is called ‘Quantum supremacy’.
In the fall of 2019, Google has claimed they proved to have the quantum supremacy by performing the specific task via a quantum computer. That task is a hard nut to crack for the usual computers, and the corporation tried to make some waves. However, their competitor IBM used their own supercomputer without any quantum parts and performed the same task faster, thus destroying Google’s fairy tale by roots. IBM advises people to take Google ”with a large dose of skepticism”.
Researchers Claim Noise Correction Takes Away the Accuracy
The inability of such a computer to work on ultra high speed is taking roots in the noise correction.
Mikhail Dyakonov, a researcher from the Charles Coulombe Laboratory at the University of Montpellier, France, wrote an article for IEEE Spectrum. He claims that quantum computing has a similar source for both weakness and potential:
“While a conventional computer with N bits at any given moment must be in one of its 2N possible states, the state of a quantum computer with N qubits is described by the values of the 2N quantum amplitudes, which are continuous parameters (ones that can take on any value, not just a 0 or a 1). This is the origin of the supposed power of the quantum computer, but it is also the reason for its great fragility and vulnerability.
So the number of continuous parameters describing the state of such a useful quantum computer at any given moment … is much, much greater than the number of subatomic particles in the observable universe.”
This sounds similar to how the human brain works. Its number of connections between the neurons is far greater than the number of subatomic particles in the Universe. What humans seek in quantum computing seems to be their own brain’s accuracy level. The neuron connections can be compared with ‘noise’ in a quantum computer. Being the ideal example of chaos, both the human brain and a quantum computer must perform better, but the quantum computer is stuck within its own complexity.
Classic Machines Do Cracking Better?
Dr. Subhash Kak from Oklahoma State University says that quantum computers use different methods of calculating, and classic machines do better at what humans need. Modern quantum computers need a far greater number of cubits to operate before they can compete:
“These companies are trying to build hardware that replicates the circuit model of classical computers. However, current experimental systems have less than 100 qubits. To achieve useful computational performance, you probably need machines with hundreds of thousands of qubits.”
During the next few years, you have nothing to fear. The crypto coins on the cold wallets are safe, as long as you don’t share the secret. As for the coins stored on exchanges and in hot wallets, there is no need for a supercomputer to crack them off.
What Can Quantum Computer Do to Crypto Wallet?
Now, powerful computers are in possession by scientists and large corporations. They can perform experiments with finding your crypto keys. There is a certain possibility that quantum computers will be able to easily crack the cryptocurrency wallets in the future. Some of the most powerful datacenters, however, already can do such things without quantum computing.
They are obligated by law to avoid using the computational power to steal the coins. That’s why even if scientists find your bitcoin using the supercomputers or quantum computers, they don’t have the right to take them away. Otherwise, it’s a theft.
Byt the time when computational power becomes available to ordinary hackers, your average crypto wallet will be upgraded to handle the threat.
Andreas Antonopoulos suggests that quantum-resistant crypto algorithms will eventually emerge to protect user’s wallets. Notably, some of the cryptocurrency wallets already started using 16 or 24 words instead of 12 words as the Seed phrase. This way, they strengthen the security of the wallet in the longterm. Because, at the end of it, nobody knows whether the universal ‘crypto cracking’ software emerges in the next 5 to 10 years or not.
Quantum Computing as World Power Tool
Maybe, just maybe, there’s some billionaire who puts his supercomputer power to cracking up all the possible Bitcoin private keys. If such a violent hacker finds your stash, you won’t know about it until he spends it out.
Theoretically, there is a great possibility of creating a quantum computer set that can crack the cryptocurrency wallets. Here, even things like the Monero‘s hidden blockchain feature may not help to cover the money.
It will take a huge amount of different resources such as time, qubits and electricity to crack out any private key. Or the whole wallet, under current circumstances. There are billions of billions of addresses in the so-called ‘address space’. Even with supercomputers, the task is somewhat very hard to complete.