IBM Think 2019: Quantum computing could break today’s crypto

The IBM Think event is described by IBM as “the world’s most celebrated gathering of visionaries, technologists and innovators.”


“Join us to create in the Cloud, innovate with IoT, break down barriers with Blockchain, and solve the unsolvable with Quantum. Learn how to get more value from AI and your Data..”

At Think 2019, which took place in San Francisco on February 12–15, many news, views, and trends related to blockchain technology and the cryptosphere were presented and discussed.

For example, Shuttle Holdings, a New York investment firm, will launch the beta version of a custody solution for digital assets built on IBM’s private cloud and encryption technologies, CoinDesk reports. Potential users include banks, brokers, custodians, funds, family offices and high net worth investors who want to do self-custody, as well as exchanges, Brad Chun, Shuttle’s chief investment officer, told CoinDesk.

But the most interesting developments related to the crypto's-here, and potentially the most impactful, are about quantum computing. “Quantum computing takes advantage of the laws of quantum mechanics found in nature and represents a fundamental change from classical information processing,” explains IBM.

“While still early, we believe it’s just a matter of time until we start using these devices to solve certain problems better than we can today.”

In particular, quantum computing could break today’s crypto tech, with potentially devastating impact for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

The interesting thing about quantum computers, as explained by Michael Osborne, manager of the Security and Privacy Group at IBM Research, is that “if you want to double the power of a classical computer, you double the amount of bits (the number of gates),”

“With a quantum computer you double the power by adding one more qubit. So a 16 qubit quantum computer is double the amount of power of a 15 qubit quantum computer.”

In late 2018 IBM released a 20 qubit quantum computer. However, as reported by MIT Technology Review, IBM has already produced a 50 bit quantum computer for internal use.

Crypto Finder’s YouTube show, The Daily Exchange, has released a video of an exclusive panel from IBM Think 2019 where experts discuss the threat posed by quantum computers to cryptocurrencies and blockchain cryptography.

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Nev Zunic, Chief Technology Officer for IBM Data Security Services said that quantum computers may plausibly reverse engineer a private key from a public key, making existing forms of public key cryptography vulnerable.

The panel highlighted that the threat extends to almost all encrypted systems, such as communications, smart vehicles, personal devices and private and government databases. To mitigate the threat of quantum computing, organisations must start quantum proofing their systems today.

The threat is “about 1–2 decades away,” said Zunic.

“Companies need to be aware of quantum and the potential risk that it will bring so they can take actions today so that they are not hackable at some point in the life cycle of their products.”

Jesse Lund, VP of Blockchain & Digital Currencies at IBM, emphasized that the threat is real and credible:

“Bitcoin is a public ledger. So you can go out and see which public keys are holding the largest balances and you could go out and target those (the hundred or thousands of bitcoin in there) and say I’m gonna spend effort (computing resource) to reverse engineer the private key from the public key, which is exposed. I think that’s even a near term threat.”

Osborne outlined some viable short-term and long-term solutions:

“You could increase key sizes. Use larger key sizes or move from elliptic curve to RSA cryptography, you could delay the point of which there will be a quantum threat. But they’re temporary solutions. The best solution essentially would be to start looking at these quantum resistant algorithms.”

Cover picture from IBM.