Quantum Computing and the Threat to Your Data

Quantum Processing could change your life

At D/SRUPTION, we’re big fans of quantum computers and the benefits they could bring to mankind.  We’ve talked about their potential over the past year – from a fantastic guide on how they work from the US NSA, to the huge computational problems they can solve.

Despite only being in the early stages of its development, Quantum Computing has and will cause unprecedented disruption to data, and as data increasingly sits at the core of so much of how we live our lives, this is a daunting prospect. The processing power of quantum computers makes them especially good at solving advanced mathematical problems – and, unfortunately, that’s exactly how data is protected – via encryption. Somewhat ironically, quantum computing is therefore a serious threat to data.

Understanding encryption
Encryption is used by pretty much everybody in the modern world, whether they know it or not. In short, it’s the process of encoding messages so that only certain parties can access the information within them, turning data into ‘ciphertext’. The two main types of encryption are RSA and Diffie-Hellman. Authorized parties can use a decryption key to decipher the ciphertext, but without the key it’s theoretically impossible to view the content of the messages. Encryption algorithms are used to protect IT systems and security, as well as data sent across networks including (but not limited to) the internet, like mobile phone calls. Although decryption keys are the only authorized way to access this information, cybercriminals can use brute force in an attempt to get hold of data by simply trying key combination after key combination. This isn’t particularly effective, and unless the ciphertext is flawed to begin with, hackers have a difficult task on their hands. That’s where quantum computing comes in. Quantum computers are famous for working out these kinds of problems, deciphering and finding flaws in code. Imagine if cybercriminals could hack into quantum computers and use them to get hold of everyone’s important data.

Disrupting data
The threat from quantum computing to encryption is a real problem for everybody – yes, everybody. Encryption protects data on all levels, whether that be withdrawing cash from an ATM or transferring money between online accounts. As well as banks, we’re talking governments, security systems and corporations. Whichever company cracks quantum computing first will have unprecedented power over all of that information. The threat to data has the potential to disrupt mass digitalisation as both individuals and corporations realise that their digital information is no longer safe, no matter how well encrypted it might be. The power of quantum computing to override basically any cybersecurity measure based on cryptography could even slow the adoption of quantum computers themselves. Perhaps the biggest disruption has come to data encryption techniques, as the future abandonment of RSA and Diffie-Hellman cryptography is unavoidable. Now, programmers are looking to post-quantum techniques. Fortunately, quantum computing is still very much under development, so there should be time to find a solution before chaos ensues. . .

A potential solution
Whilst RSA and Diffie-Hellman cryptography systems are vulnerable to quantum computers, new forms of post-quantum encryption are currently being researched as a way to respond to the threat to data. This includes lattice encryption, which isn’t so new, in fact – it’s been studied for years, but has seen a recent revival as the older systems begin to crack. Lattice encryption is far more effective than traditional encryption because of its sheer complexity. In layman’s terms, lattice-based cryptography involves layers of linear, algorithmic operations. Cracking codes of that level is going to be a difficult job, even for quantum computers.

On many levels, quantum computing will cause positive disruption to industries across the scale. It’s unavoidable that this will come with some downsides, although the threat to data is particularly worrying when quantum technologies are brilliant at solving near-impossible mathematical questions. On the plus side, the problem has been recognised long before quantum computers have achieved their full potential. This means that new post-quantum cryptography techniques like lattice encryption could provide at least a temporary solution to the threat to information. However, it looks like the end of the line for RSA and Diffie-Hellman systems. In short, businesses (and everybody else, for that matter) should start researching post-quantum cryptography, and fast.

Can we really protect our information from quantum processing power? 

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