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Quantum computing threatens digital assets

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A University of Surrey report co-authored by Stephen Holmes, Chief Product Officer at Arqit Limited (“Arqit”), a global leader in quantum encryption technology, and Professor Liqun Chen, Professor in Secure Systems at the University of Surrey, released this week identifies the definitive threat posed to Digital Assets unless urgent changes are made to their cryptography.

With increasing global investment, quantum computing technology is developing quickly towards the point where it will have sufficient power to break the digital signatures used in digital assets. As central banks and large enterprises are now seriously considering the large-scale use of digital assets, this is more important than ever. This research assesses the attack mechanisms employed by a quantum computer and when they will arise. It covers:

  • An overview of related work on digital asset vulnerability to quantum computer attack.
  • Analysis and review of possible combined attacks to delay a transaction’s processing time, thereby prolonging its risk of quantum attack.
  • Estimate of quantum computing resources required to solve the Elliptic Curve Discrete Logarithm Problem (ECDLP) using Shor’s algorithm.
  • Assessment of quantum computing capacity required to execute Shor’s algorithm, while accounting for circuit size and error rates on a quantum computer.
  • A new proposed approach to assess the relative quantum threat posed to a digital asset. This enables the tracking of risk against advances in quantum computers over time, regardless of the underpinning technologies used in a quantum computer.
  • The research paper will be presented at an academic conference in New York, International Conference on Digital Currencies and Payment Systems due to be held between 9 and 10 August 2021.

Arqit’s Founder, chairman and CEO, David Williams says, “The University of Surrey research paper highlights some critical issues that must be addressed and prioritised to ensure all digital assets are secure against quantum computer attacks. With mass digitisation of almost every aspect of our society already underway, and a number of governments considering the launch of their own digital currencies, this is now a global issue. The world needs stronger, simpler encryption to counter the major attacks seen daily today, and the quantum attack of tomorrow. We welcome this research which elaborates well the things that the digital assets community must consider to mitigate these cryptographic threats”.

A copy of the full report can be downloaded from Cryptology ePrint Archive: Report 2021/967 – Assessment of Quantum Threat To Bitcoin and Derived Cryptocurrencies (iacr.org).

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