Can you imagine a transmission system where the data would change if anyone simply peeked into it? Imagine the two most popular cryptocurrency enthusiasts, Alice and Bob, could exchange secret keys via a medium where, if anyone were to try and read their communications, those keys would arrive with a tell-tale mark that they had been looked at by their ever present rival, Eve?
This technology has been out there since at least 1984 and it’s called Quantum Key Distribution, or QKD for short.
QKD uses properties from, you guessed it, Quantum Physics and it leverages one of the most famous physical principles in modern science: the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Werner Heisenberg proved that you may never know all the information available about atomic particles. For example, if you knew the exact position of a photon, for instance, you could not know its exact velocity.
This principle is leveraged in QKD for security purposes. A sender is able to transmit some particle (usually a photon) that is polarized in a particular way. If anyone were to try and “inspect” it along the way, this particle would change state and, given some redundancy test (or error correction algorithm), the receiver would be able to know that someone had tried to intercept the transmission.
Quantum Key Distribution and Cryptocurrencies?
So, how does this amazing concept fit into the world of cryptocurrencies? There are many possible ideas for interesting uses of QKD in cryptos, but none of them have been considered for implementation yet. Quantum computing is, after all, still a few decades away from mass adoption.
Here are a few ideas for QKD in the cryptocurrency space:
- Secure private key transmissions between branches of a cryptocurrency-enabled enterprise.
- A third layer on top of Bitcoin, allowing for secure P2P exchange of sensible data with underlying commits on the 1st layer blockchain (HyperLightning Network?).
- Allow for 100% secret transactions, via Monero infrastructure for example, to take place in completely undetectable form.
- Trusted transfer of the raw blockchain, not requiring verification on the receiving end (a form of information reconciliation).
Quantum computing in general is a promising field for cryptography and, of course, cryptocurrency researchers. Academics have warned that Bitcoin is vulnerable to quantum computing attacks and, as such, the most popular crypto will require upgrades in order to stay secure in the coming decades. To quoting the same piece from The Register:
As far as defeating hashcash goes, the numbers are daunting for quantum computer designers: by 2028, the researchers reckon, you’d need a 4.4 million qubit machine to achieve 13.8 gigahashes per second: “This is more than one thousand times slower than off the shelf ASIC devices which achieve hash rates of 14TH/s”.
Several key distribution protocols are already available for QKD and many more will likely appear in the coming years, especially as cryptocurrency research gains further ground in academia.
Photo Credit: D-Wave Systems, Inc. by CC
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