How a Hard Fork Could Save Ethereum from Quantum Doom, According to Vitalik Buterin

Last Updated on March 11, 2024

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Key Takeaways:

  • Ethereum is reportedly well-prepared to handle a quantum computing threat through a straightforward recovery hard fork, as detailed by co-founder Vitalik Buterin.
  • A proposed solution involves rolling back the Ethereum network to pre-theft status and introducing a new transaction type under Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 7560, specifically designed to secure transactions against quantum vulnerabilities.
  • The new security measures would utilize Winternitz signatures and STARKs technology for zero-knowledge proofs, transitioning existing wallets to a quantum-resistant validation code, thus safeguarding user funds against potential quantum computing threats.

Ethereum, as per its co-founder Vitalik Buterin, is already strategically placed to counteract any significant threats from quantum computing. In a recent post on Ethereum Research dated March 9, Buterin delves into the potential scenario of a sudden quantum computing emergency.

Imagine, Buterin suggests, that quantum computers were suddenly announced to be in the hands of malicious entities capable of compromising user funds as early as tomorrow. His response to this hypothetical threat is surprisingly optimistic.

Ethereum Research thread by Vitalik Buterin
Ethereum Research thread on how to hard-fork by Vitalik Buterin. Source: Ethereum Research

Buterin claims that Ethereum is in a strong position to enact a straightforward recovery fork to address such a crisis. This process would necessitate a hard fork of the blockchain and the adoption of new wallet software by users, yet, according to him, the likelihood of users losing their funds would be minimal.

Buterin outlines that in the event of a quantum attack, the Ethereum network would be rolled back to a state before the onset of widespread theft. All conventional transactions beyond this point would be halted.

How to recovery from a quantum emergency by Vitalik Buterin
How to recover from a quantum emergency by Vitalik Buterin. Source: Ethereum Research

The introduction of a novel transaction type, as specified in Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) 7560, would then be pivotal. This new transaction mechanism is designed to enable secure transactions from smart contract wallets, circumventing the vulnerabilities exposed by quantum computing.

The heart of the issue lies in the current transaction signatures, which, in a world threatened by quantum computing, could inadvertently reveal users’ private keys due to the exposure of public keys.

The proposed quantum-resistant EIP aims to mitigate this risk by incorporating Winternitz signatures along with STARKs technology for zero-knowledge proofs, thereby ensuring that wallets transition to a new, secure validation code.

Visual aid on how to hard fork
A visitor on Ethereum Research replied to Buterin and gave a visual aid on how to hard fork. Source: Ethereum Research

This updated validation code, leveraging ERC-4337 account abstraction, aims to shield smart contract wallets from quantum attacks by preventing private keys from being revealed during transaction signatures.

Intriguingly, Buterin mentions that individuals who have not yet conducted any transactions from their Ethereum wallets are naturally safeguarded against quantum exploits, as only their wallet addresses are exposed. Furthermore, he suggests that the necessary infrastructure for such a hard fork could theoretically begin development immediately.

Merging of AI and quantum computing

The prospect of quantum computing poses a significant threat to the crypto world, with the potential to compromise blockchain encryption and user funds. Yet, the timeline for quantum computing to reach a level capable of such feats remains a subject of debate among experts, with predictions ranging to 2029 and beyond.

Buterin’s proactive stance and proposed solutions offer a glimpse into the ongoing efforts to secure Ethereum against future technological threats.

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