Quantum Resistance: The Key Proof Day Taken To The Subsequent Degree

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When Satoshi Nakamoto dismantled the Genesis block 13 years ago today and the Bitcoin blockchain emerged from it, he triggered a cryptographic revolution – you could store your assets behind personal private keys.

Celebrated every January 3rd, Proof Of Keys Day is an opportunity to reflect on that breakthrough by making sure you keep your private keys. In the past few years, bitcoins have celebrated this day by taking their bitcoins off the exchanges.

At Casa, we help Bitcoiners hold their keys themselves, and we’ve found that some training is required to use this power effectively. This year, on Proof Of Keys Day, we’re going one step further by calling out a threat on the horizon and explaining why we should act now to keep our keys as sturdy as ever. That threat is quantum computing.

What is a quantum computer?

You may have noticed that computers are much smaller than they used to be. This is the result of countless scientific breakthroughs ranging from nanophysics to the chemistry of semiconductor materials. In quantum mechanics, we examine the world on the most granular level possible in order to open up the potential of basic materials and complex applications.

In quantum computing, the areas of quantum mechanics and computer science come together. As our atomic and subatomic understanding grows, we apply this knowledge to develop more powerful and efficient computers.

We live in the information age. Those who have the best technology will be massively rewarded in the years to come. It’s hard to imagine the potential of quantum computing because we don’t know what we don’t know. Building a quantum computer is like trying your hand at alchemy or cold fusion – if you somehow manage to do it, the payoffs could be limitless.

What constitutes quantum computing is difficult to fully describe, but for the sake of reasoning, consider it a transcendental improvement in computing power, well in excess of 10 or 100 times. Quantum processing power is measured in qubits. It is believed that certain types of Bitcoin addresses could become vulnerable to attack at several thousand qubits, and the latest advanced model is around 125 qubits. While quantum computing is not a phenomenon that we expect in the immediate future, it is within a few orders of magnitude, which, in terms of technology, may not take very long.

Peace through superior firepower

Cryptography allows us to hide information in a format that is virtually impossible to guess or calculate, and cryptography makes Bitcoin extremely defensible. The software clients and wallets can change – the cryptography must remain intact.

Every Bitcoin address is generated with a private key, a number so cosmically large that it is difficult to understand. It’s like a lock with almost infinite combinations. A malicious actor could try to guess your private key, but they would most likely die of old age.

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The computing power is important from a game theory point of view, since computers are developed further every year, as predicted by Moore’s law. Bitcoin only survives as long as the potential for a computer attack against public keys remains inaccessible.

Nobody has succeeded in doing this before, but there is no guarantee that it will always do so. Cryptographic algorithms tend to be weakened and eventually cracked as our understanding of math and computers evolve.

Satoshi’s first line of defense

Satoshi expected continuous technological advancement to some extent. They contained a security measure to prevent actors from overtaking the Bitcoin network with computing power alone: ​​the difficulty adjustment. The algorithm self-regulates every 2,016 blocks, increasing or decreasing the mining difficulty in order to keep the relative time for Bitcoin blocks roughly every 10 minutes.

This dynamic feature was a must have in the early days of Bitcoin, when the network was at its most vulnerable and wild changes in hash rate posed an existential threat. For the most part, adjusting the level of difficulty has encouraged those briefly gaining a computational advantage to use their power for good and mine bitcoin rather than attacking the network.

There is, however, the theoretical possibility of a massive computerized breakthrough that would give a company or nation-state a one-sided advantage over the network. To get an idea of ​​the extent we are talking about, consider how the development of the atomic bomb was decisive for World War II. If an actor were ever to gain such an advantage, they would have a strong incentive to use it right away rather than watch it slowly fade over time.

Upgrades will be necessary

In a quantum computing attack, some network components would be more vulnerable than others. For example, it is often debated whether Satoshi’s coins – an amount estimated at up to 1.1 million bitcoin – will ever move. But the more alarming scenario could be if Satoshi’s coins were stolen.

Early Bitcoin addresses are weaker from a cryptographic point of view. These addresses use a pay-to-public key (P2PK) that has been set up, ie the actual public key can be found in the blockchain. A sufficiently powerful quantum computer could possibly reverse engineer a private key from a public key and output it from the associated address. This means that Satoshi’s coins could become “degradable” if the coins stay there for eternity and quantum computers arrive.

Most of the addresses in the past few years use a pay-to-public key hash function which provides another layer of cryptographic protection, but the scenario mentioned above shows how problematic the right kind of supercomputer can be. Attackers look for the weakest link as an entry point.

Bitcoin’s future is quantum resistance

Computer is competition. While we do not expect the quantum computer threat to be a cause for concern for many years to come, it is better to be proactive instead of waiting for it to come. Safety is the science of being one step ahead. The real act of wealth preservation is to stave off the many attempts to steal it.

An immediate strategy for personal quantum resistance is never to reuse addresses. Once you issue from an address, you expose the address’s public key in the chain. By withholding your public keys, you make it difficult for a quantum computer to ultimately reverse engineer you. This is a tactic that you can use today.

Going forward, we Bitcoiners should have an ongoing discussion about how we can upgrade our cryptographic infrastructure to prepare for the rise of quantum computing because – let’s be honest – we know it is coming. The recently activated Taproot upgrade, which avoids the participation of multiple signatures behind a single one, is a good example of what can be achieved when we bring our thoughts together. We can use the innovation of quantum computing for the benefit of Bitcoin.

Proof Of Keys Day is more than a one day affair – it’s a way of life. As bitcoiners, we have to keep proving our keys in the face of evolving threats. Cypherpunks write code and never stop writing.

This is a guest post by Jameson Lopp. The opinions expressed are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.


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