[Headline News] Bitcoin Colonial Ransom Hack: an Application and Implication of Quantum Computing

By MOS Information Group — Walt

On June 8, 2021, Lude Media [1] presented the Quantum Computing application in the cracking of the Colonial Pipeline ransom bitcoin payment holding wallet. Other articles referred hereafter as [2], [3] and [4] covered various background information on the events and highlighted that the weak link probably was at the bitcoin holding wallet end. 

From a technological perspective, quantum computing (QC) is a known  achilles heel for those math-based asymmetric cryptosystems. This is because the fundamental computing element of QC, Qubit, can simultaneously hold multiple states at the same time instead of the binary state of a traditional computer. It is this quantum property of state superposition allowing it to exponentially reduce down the computation complexity for applicable problems, especially math and independent parallelism problems. Case in point, the Shor’s Factoring algorithm for fast prime factorization using quantum Fourier Transform dramatically reduces the number of crack attempts from the previously brute-force methods. In general, cryptography algorithms whose security relies on mathematical problems can be broken using quantum computing. These make algorithms like HTTPS, ECDSA, RSA, Diffie-Hellman, PKI, VPNs, Wi-Fi, etc. vulnerable in the realm of QC. The HTTPS networking protocol is widely used on the internet. Thus, the implications can be profound.

On the other hand, there are quantum safe cryptography [5], such as quantum key distribution (QKD), and stream ciphers like SHAKE, symmetric and hash ciphers like AES, SHA-2/3, etc. Commercially viable quantum computing is not available to the general public yet. However, just like any bleeding edge technology, it is only a matter of time before it comes pervasive. For those who are interested in this and the impacts of quantum computing on cryptography, Grimes’ book[6] is a good place to start.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzZxC1WuivQ&t=534s

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/08/bitcoin-btc-price-slides-as-us-seizes-most-of-colonial-ransom.html

[3] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-did-federal-agents-recover-bitcoin-and-access-a-crypto-wallet-tied-to-the-colonial-pipeline-cyberattack-11623182259

[4] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-06-08/colonial-hackers-led-the-fbi-down-a-hot-wallet-trail-to-bitcoin-ransom

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-quantum_cryptography

[6] “Cryptography Apocalypse: Preparing for the Day When Quantum Computing Breaks Today’s Crypto” by Roger A. Grimes

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