WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Tomorrow’s quantum computers will be able to crack at least seventy percent of all today’s encryption algorithms within minutes, but now Russia says they’ve created the ultimate, secure blockchain technology.
Researchers at the Russian Quantum Center (RQC) announced earlier this week that they’ve created the first quantum-safe blockchain, and that the technology will help Russian organisations keep cryptocurrencies and sensitive data secure from even the most powerful quantum computers – as and when they become available, which if IBM’s estimates are correct could be as early as 2020. And bearing in mind that some of today’s most nascent quantum computers are over a hundred million times more powerful than their equivalent logic based computer systems, and that experts assert that over 70 percent of all of today’s encryption algorithms could be cracked within minutes, and that includes blockchain’s traditional PKI encryption keys, that’s impressive.
RQC also announced that the technology has been successfully tested by one of Russia’s largest banks, Gazprombankm, and that they’re now working to expand the capability to other Russian and international financial services organisations.
The announcement, however, like so many quantum technology related breakthroughs, such as China’s announcement that they’d created the world’s first quantum radar system, was greeted with a wait and see attitude by industry observers, including Steve Conway from Hyperion who noted that, given the complexity of the use case, neither the press release nor the white paper associated with it, which were both issued by RQC gave enough technical detail to validate the breakthrough.
“As far as the use case goes,” Conway said, “it’s pretty universally acknowledged that one of the key early uses for quantum computing is going to be for cyber defense, so that’s no surprise. Efforts like that are underway around the world and it’s difficult to assess this one in comparison with any other without having any technical details about what they’re doing.”
“It is still early in the development of quantum computing and difficult to compare the efficacy of the Russians’ approach versus efforts we have seen from companies like D-Wave and IBM,” said Addison Snell, CEO of Intersect 360 Research, “the most important point here is perhaps the fact that Russia, which already has capable supercomputing vendors, such as RSC and T-Platforms, is now part of the quantum computing discussion as well.”
RQC said it secured the blockchain by combining Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) with Post Quantum Cryptography techniques, making it essentially “un-hackable,” and they also said that their new technology creates special blocks that are signed by quantum keys that are created by their QKD network, rather than by today’s traditional digital signatures.
QKD networks have become increasingly common around the world, particularly in the financial sector, and increasingly China, Europe and the US are using QKD networks to execute and protect everything from smart contracts and financial transactions to classified information.
Quantum computing holds the promise of delivering performance exponentially more powerful than today’s computers, but its commercial realisation remains years away – it’s also seen as a major threat if it gets into the wrong hands.
Google appears to be at the forefront of this work – the company’s quantum-AI team has set for itself the goal of making a quantum annealer with 100 qubits by the end of this year. A qubit, or quantum bit, is the quantum computing equivalent of the classical bit. Conway pointed out that the RQC’s claims would require sophisticated quantum computing capabilities.
“It’s interesting because the challenges with creating a quantum computer increase dramatically with the number of qubits,” said Conway, “it’s a whole lot easier to do something with a couple of qubits than it is with hundreds or thousands of qubits. But in fact if you want to get serious about this you have to get to the thousands of qubits… I’d be surprised if this was in the thousands of qubits range, which is what you’d really need for serious cybersecurity.”