Every cryptocurrency can be hacked ‘within several seconds’

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In the Melbourne suburb of Clayton, the blockchain guru who invented Monero’s privacy protection is developing and testing the first cryptocurrency that’s safe from quantum hackers.

Dr. Joseph Liu, associate professor in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University, estimates that within five years Quantum computers will be able to hack every cryptocurrency currently in existence in a matter of seconds.

He points to a computer in his office: “If you want to use this computer to break the … normal security, it’ll take maybe 500 years to break the system,” he says. “If you use a quantum computer, maybe several seconds.”

“Hcash is trying to provide security, even in the existence of this future computer.”


Eureka, we’ve done it

In February, Hcash (now known as Hypercash) announced that the code for the Post-Quantum Linkable Ring Signature had been completed and they were moving onto the deployment testing phase.

Now if they could only get their hands on a Quantum computer to be sure it works…

Liu’s Story

In 2004, before Bitcoin was even invented, Liu wrote his PhD thesis about a ‘linkable ring signature’.

“It is the technology that allows people to sign (transactions) anonymously, but it’s also traceable so (it can’t be) spent two or three times,” he says.

“At the time I can’t think of any application, I just wrote the paper. Ten years later it suddenly came up in Monero.”

Monero digs up his PhD

The creators of Monero dug up Liu’s PhD paper and used it as the basis for Monero.

Monero has a marketcap worth well over a billion dollars but Liu got nothing for his contribution. He doesn’t seem to mind though – along with collaborator Dr. Allen Au from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Liu improved the Monero algorithm in September 2017. The price doubled two days later.

In November last year, his pioneering blockchain work was honoured with the ACS ICT ‘Researcher of the Year’ award at the 2018 Digital Disruptor Awards.

Hcash/Hypercash

Collinstar Capital used Liu and Au’s research to help develop a new cryptocurrency called Hypercash. (Liu is the HCASH Chief Scientist.) They hope it will act as a virtual cryptocurrency exchange, connecting all existing cryptocurrencies. PhD students and research fellows at Monash are helping develop the algorithms to be deployed in Hcash.

Liu is also the founding director of the Monash Blockchain Technology Centre. The university-recognized centre for interdisciplinary research will be established in “the coming months”.

“We are … going to hire lots of people and open some new units in the blockchain area,” he says.

Incidentally, Monash certainly does seem like the place to study blockchain – researchers there last month unveiled a coin that’s almost impervious to a 51% attack and can process 10,000 transactions a second.

The future of blockchain

Liu is undeniably optimistic about the future, despite the crypto market lows over the past 12 months. He believes there will be an ‘explosion’ in blockchain related jobs and encourages students to get in on the ground floor by studying cryptography, proof of work/proof of stake consensus as well as smart contracts.

“This is just the beginning of this blockchain opportunity explosion. The past year, you may know the price of Bitcoin dropped a lot – that doesn’t mean it’s the end. The opposite.
For every new technology the first part is this kind of bubble, and the bubble has broken OK. The real technology is (just starting) to be applied in different centres in the society.”

Blockchain will benefit every business

Liu says blockchain is set to touch every industry and corner of society – and called on academics and business people from outside of computer science to examine the array of potential applications.

“Just like the invention of the Internet, at the beginning it was just limited to I.T. Now you can see it’s not just computer scientists, but everyone in the world.

“It’s the same with blockchain. Everyone will use it, not just the IT people, but the bank, the energy people, digital health, the logistic people, mining, transportation… Every sector will find out how blockchain will somehow improve their business.”