Do Quantum Computers Pose a Risk to Crypto?


Quantum computers are well on their way to becoming the world's most powerful tool, but will they pose a security risk to cryptocurrency? Using Schor's Algorithm, a quantum computer could decrypt Bitcoin's ECDSA. For this to be a reality, some big advancements would have to take place in the field of quantum computation.

Do Quantum Computers Pose a Risk to Crypto?

Throughout the entire span of cryptocurrency, there has always been someone out there to remind everyone that the security measures of Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies are highly vulnerable to quantum computer attacks. Is there any truth to this? In this piece, we will look at the effect quantum computers may eventually have on cryptocurrency.

What is a Quantum Computer

Quantum computers are computers that are capable of quickly solving complex mathematical problems, with a fundamentally different approach than that of the binary computers that we use today. Quantum computers can achieve this by harnessing the power of physics to exponentially increase the amount of processing power each individual bit possesses within the computer. For this reason, it has been theorized that a sufficiently powerful quantum computer could pose a threat to any computer system that utilizes cryptographic encryption, as its means of security.

Quantum vs. Classical Computing

Classical binary computers process data by utilizing bits, which can hold only one of two values: Either “0” or “1.” Quantum bits, or “qubits” on the other hand, can exist in the 0 or 1 state simultaneously. Picture classical bits as a metal coin. The coin can either be on heads or tails. Qubits, however, are more like a spinning coin, which is simultaneously showing you both heads and tails at the same time. Qubits can even have a separate assigned value based on the particle’s rate of spin when they are expressing non superimposed values (values which are achieved when the qubit is only expressing one value, and resemble classical bits). For these reasons qubits are far more efficient when it comes to quickly braking cryptographic puzzles.

How Could a Quantum Computer be Used to Sabotage Crypto

To understand if a quantum computer could potentially be used to sabotage crypto, its important to understand a few basic concepts behind the security of cryptocurrency. Bitcoin for example uses a series of cryptographic algorithms that – at the moment – are nearly impossible to break. The first cryptographic algorithm used is the “signature algorithm.” The signature algorithm used in Bitcoin is known as the ECDSA, or elliptic curve digital signature algorithm.

ECDSAs create a public and private key pair, which is used to lock and unlock Bitcoins to different wallet addresses. ECDSA belongs to the parent category of asymmetric encryption, which essentially takes advantage of the fact that it’s exponentially more difficult to factor multiples of large prime numbers. If you were to take all of the world’s super computers and set them to focus on the task of deriving a private Bitcoin key from a public key, it would take all of those computers up to 10 billion, billion processing years to break the encryption. Bitcoin is so secure because of the ECDSA that it would be completely pointless to attempt guessing a private key, therefore no one bothers to attempt it.

Schor’s Algorithm

Even if it may take an incredibly long time to decrypt Bitcoin’s ECDSA, that does not mean it’s impossible. Using a quantum computer, one could break the ECDSA by using Schor’s Algorithm. Schor’s Algorithm calculates factors by first making a randomized, inaccurate guess, and then multiplying that guess to different powers, then either adding or subtracting 1 from the result, until a factor of the ECDSA is determined, or two equivalent factors which alternatively equal the target factor are determined. Essentially Schor’s algorithm takes a guess, then uses a mathematic principle to refine the original guess until the solution to the problem is found.

Where Quantum Physics Fits in

I’m sure you’re wondering exactly what Schor’s Algorithm has to do with quantum mechanics, and the simple answer is that it doesn’t. Quantum computers fit in to the problem because of the fact that they are capable of solving many problems simultaneously due to the state of the materials being used as qubits. Essentially, quantum computers solve problems more similarly to how the human brain solves problems, compared to classical computers, which solve problems as binary equations.


Quantum computers could very well pose a threat to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin; however, quantum computing is still in an incredibly early stage. According to public records, there are approximately 11 quantum computers scattered across the globe, although none of them have achieved the level of the true large-scale quantum computer needed to break Bitcoin. The technology will eventually exist, but for now it is still hypothetical.

When the true large-scale quantum computer does arrive, anyone attempting to use it to break Bitcoin would immediately encounter another big problem: Quantum computers are just as useless as classical computers without programming. To make things even more difficult, no one has ever programmed a large-scale quantum computer. Anyone who was attempting to use a quantum computer to sabotage Bitcoin would also be tasked with first programming the world’s most powerful and least understood piece of technology, before it could be used for anything whatsoever.

All and all, quantum computers won’t pose a risk to cryptocurrency for a long time. When they do however, we’ll be ready!

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