February 2017 - Quantum Computing | Encryption | Cybersecurity | Data Protection & Privacy

Quantum Computing and the Future of Encryption

Quantum computing may still be some years from its breakthrough, but we should be preparing now for security in the post-quantum era

Quantum Computing and the Future of Encryption

Image: iStockphoto | sakkmesterke

To understand quantum computing and quantum cryptography, one must have a grasp of topics such as Bell’s theorem, the superposition principle and Shor’s algorithm. If you are among the few who do, Wikipedia could use your help. At least, that’s the opinion of one unregistered user who left the following comment in the “Talk”-Section of Wikipedia’s article on quantum computing: “There's an old saying about being able to explain something in simple terms. ... If you can't, you probably don't understand the subject yourself. Cheers.”

If you already have decided you will never understand what this is all about, let us begin with a more practicable question: What is quantum computing good for?

There are probably many, many things quantum computers could be good for, once we can really start using them. Predicting the weather is one of them, perhaps. At the moment, the only thing we can be sure of is that quantum computing will help us factorize numbers.

IBM proved this in 2001. Big Blue, using an NMR type quantum computer, successfully factorized the number 15. Its factors were found to be 5 and 3.

What sounds like a pedestrian problem is giving an increasing number of scientists promising careers and has potential consequences that could challenge the integrity of our entire digital infrastructure.

Why is factorizing important?

“While a practical quantum computer is still science fiction, it's not stupid science fiction,” says Bruce Schneier, IT security expert and encryption guru. In fact, its practical use would be anything but stupid. Quantum computing is expected not only to factorize the number 15, but also any other number as well -- and much faster than any other computer in use today. And that would render one of our most secure technologies far less secure in a heartbeat: encryption.

Encryption as we know it is based on long numbers that take even computers a long time to factorize. Encrypting data and communication is among the most vital Internet technologies. It is also heavily fought over. Some even say we are fighting a crypto war.

This is reason enough for scientists, corporations and government agencies to invest heavily in quantum computing and quantum cryptography. Here is a list of some of the most important, promising or best-known projects:

  • IBM runs research (and offers FAQs that beat Wikipedia by a margin)
  • Microsoft also is investing in quantum computing and runs a promising approach, the Quantum Computer Simulator.
  • Intel also is active in the field.
  • Google has recently launched its project New Hope and bases some connections established by Chrome on technology labeled “post quantum.”
  • The University Eindhoven has been running a project for some years with the goal of creating encryption technology that will remain secure in times of quantum computing.
  • The National Security Agency is also interested in using quantum based technology.

For eco – Association of the Internet Industry, quantum computing and quantum encryption are important topics, as they are tied to very basic questions: How secure is our data? How reliable is the integrity of our connections? How can we further improve the security and integrity of our digital communication?

eco Director for IT Security, Prof. Norbert Pohlmann, believes there no time for complacency in developing Quantum security. “It appears that it will still be some time before the first real Quantum computer. However, even if it takes a number of years until the first fully functional Quantum computers are put to use, we should be beginning to prepare for this today. Post-quantum algorithms must also be applied for the use of Blockchain as early as possible. If post-quantum algorithms have not already been in use for years at the time when the first Quantum computers are available, then no data in the Internet will be secure. Quantum computers are the Sword of Damocles for encryption and trust in the Internet.”