The Google Sycamore quantum processor
Source: Google/Erik Lucero, Research Scientist and Lead Production Quantum Hardware

Is Quantum Computing a Threat to Bitcoin? The Answer Might Surprise You

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Mar. 19 2021, Published 9:42 a.m. ET

Security is touted as one of the biggest advantages that blockchain technology brings to the table. Instead of a centralized database or server that can be attacked, cryptocurrencies use a decentralized ledger spread across all blockchain participants. This makes bitcoin almost impossible to crack by any normal hacker.

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However, as computers continue to get more powerful, even the most sophisticated programs can be cracked. Quantum computing is a new field that used to be constrained to the realm of science fiction. However, companies like Google (GOOG) have announced that their own black box quantum computers could, in theory, crack Bitcoin's encryption in just a few seconds. Is this the end of crypto? The answer might surprise you.

blockchain tech
Source: Pixabay.
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The power of quantum computing

Google announced back in 2019 that its quantum supercomputer, Sycamore, had achieved "quantum supremacy,' which means the machine runs entirely on the laws of quantum physics. In comparison, most computers, from your desktop to your smartphone, run on classical physics, like Newton's laws of motion.

Why is this a big deal? A fully quantum computer makes even the most powerful classical computer look like a TI-84 calculator.  For example, the  fastest classical computer on the planet, known as Summit, would take 10,000 years to solve the same math problem that Google's Sycamore managed to solve in just 200 seconds.

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What this means is that any form of encryption can be cracked via brute force, thanks to the mind-boggling power of these quantum computers. 

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What does this mean for Bitcoin?

One big appeal of Bitcoin is that it's outside the government's control. While regulations can be placed on the end points of a transaction, there's not much the government can do to stop actual transactions between two bitcoin users. However, with quantum computers, any government that has one can forcibly crack open the Bitcoin blockchain, withdraw every bitcoin, and otherwise loot the network.

bitcoin tech
Source: Pixabay.
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Of course, once a vulnerability is detected, Bitcoin's value will plummet as investors flee out of the crypto. Considering that it would take a quantum supercomputer just seconds to break open Bitcoin's encryption, some crypto investors are worried this could be the end of blockchain technology. While there's only a very small number of these quantum computers out right now, the number of these computers could multiply significantly in 5 to 10 years.

However, not everyone is worried. For one, computer scientists are working on devising quantum-resistant software which could be incorporated into future cryptocurrencies. Vitalik Buterin, the co-founder of Ethereum, also said that he's not worried. In a 2019 interview with Forkast News, he said that there's always a way to make future cryptocurrencies quantum-proof.

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Quantum resistant cryptocurrencies

While we still have around a few years before quantum computing becomes a serious threat to crypto, start-ups are already working to tackle this issue. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), one of the world's leading cryptography institutes, is at the forefront of developing new, quantum-resistant cybersecurity measures.

Another interesting project is Praxxis, a quantum-resistant blockchain that uses the XX token. The founder of Praxxis also happens to be famed cryptographer David Chaum, who first published a paper on untraceable digital cash back in 1982.

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When quantum-resistant software is available, most large cryptocurrency projects, like Bitcoin, could undergo a fork in which this new code is incorporated into the blockchain.

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