How Quantum Computing Can Unravel Your Cyber Strategy
Solving problems that have plagued humanity for eons in just a few hours. That’s the promise of quantum computers, machines that can crunch numbers, unravel complex data strings and out compute supercomputers in the blink of an eye. Although the first reliable quantum computer is yet to come, IBM expects the quantum computing market to be worth $10B by 2024. This technology is being considered the most disruptive in computing.
Why are experts wary of quantum computing?
In the same way that a quantum computer can solve problems that perplex today’s supercomputers, they can also crack open every encryption code ever written. There’s no cyber lock that they can’t pick. In the era of quantum computing, no information will truly be safe.
According to Prof. Sadie Creese, Professor of Cyber Security, University of Oxford, “Businesses and governments could be rendered unable to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the transactions and data on which they rely. Ultimately, this could put all our data at risk.” Prof. Creese is also the Director of the Oxford Cyber Security for Business Leaders Programme.
The risk quantum computing poses on cyber security
Present digital ciphers use two kinds of encryptions to transmit data over a network: symmetric and asymmetric (aka public-key cryptography). Symmetric cryptography is much faster and is used for communications and storing data. Public-key cryptography is used for digital authentication and securely exchanging symmetric keys. The math behind these two types of cryptography is different and affects how they work. Virtually all interaction over the internet uses either one or both of these.
The easiest way to break a code would be to try all the keys and find the right one – a feat that would take today’s supercomputers trillions of years. But for public-key cryptography, the problem is very different. Popular algorithms behind public-key encryption such as RSA, elliptical curve and Diffie-Helman enable computing the private key without trying all the possibilities.
That means a fully functioning quantum computer could use a method like Shor’s algorithm to decrypt a 4096-bit key pair in hours. If that comes to pass and current encryption methods are broken, there would be no way to secure information or trust data transmitted over the internet.
How close are we to all information breaking loose?
A study from the National Academies suggests at least a decade. Today’s functional quantum computers don’t have the processing power and are much too error-prone to crack these codes. The study reckons that future quantum computers will need to have at least 100,000 times more processing power and reduce the error rate by 100 times to accomplish the encryption coup.
Given the potential of harm, this is definitely not a problem any organisation can put off for later. In the second part of this article we delve into what measures you can take now to safeguard your company’scyber security plans against quantum computing - stay tuned.