Alex Beath, a Toronto-based physicist and pension fund analyst, is skeptical about Bitcoin but sees one useful purpose for the crypto-currency: It may detect when someone creates a working quantum computer. Beath’s off-the-cuff observation, which he made in response to a Fortune query about the security of bitcoin, is amusing.
But it also underscores a serious problem: Namely, a new era of computing is fast-approaching and when it arrives, the system that gave rise to many crypto-currency fortunes will collapse. This threat to Bitcoin and other software systems that use the same underlying encryption technique—a technique likely to crumble in the face of a quantum-based attack—is not new.
Indeed, it was predicted decades ago, and Ethereum founder (and former journalist) Vitalik Buterin wrote about how to defend it in 2013. The difference today, though, is that companies like Microsoft, Google and IBM are making rapid breakthroughs that could make quantum computing viable in less than 10 years.
Right now, engineers are stymied over how to deploy enough “qubits” (a quantum version of the binary bit system used in traditional computers that lets a unit be a 0 and 1 simultaneously) in a stable fashion. According to CEO Louis Parks of SecureRF, which is developing quantum-resistant security systems, the number of qubits in a machine has recently soared from 16 to 50.
This is far from the 4,000 to 10,000 that would likely be needed to crack Bitcoin’s cryptography but, at this point, Parks says quantum computing is now at stage akin to when the Wright brothers began showing airplanes were viable. In other words, it’s not too soon for crypto-currency “hodlers” to worry about the security of their fortune. Read more from fortune.com…
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