Even the most secure system has weaknesses. Even the best encryption can be broken. These are golden laws of cybersecurity, rules which every expert knows by heart. Unfortunately, those rules might come into play sooner than any of us realize, according to the head of IBM Research, Arvind Krishna. The reason? Quantum computing.
A revolutionary new technology that’s still very much in its nascent stages, quantum computing leverages the fact that subatomic particles can exist in more than one state at a time.
Traditional computers store data in bits, which can exist in one of two states: one or zero. Quantum computers, however, use a new unit of measurement, a single atom known as a qubit (literally “quantum bit"), which "greatly increases the computational power of a system."
Wired Magazine puts forth an excellent analogy for understanding how qubits function as opposed to bits. Picture a sphere. A bit can only exist on one of the sphere’s two poles; a qubit, on the other hand, can exist at any point on the sphere. This allows qubits to store and process information faster and more efficiently than modern systems which, in turn, means that a quantum computer can perform operations like debugging millions of lines of code in just a few seconds.
There is a problem with that, though: one of the things a quantum computer is especially well-suited for is numerical analysis. Since large numerical values are the foundation of modern cryptography, this also makes quantum computers ideal for breaking even the strongest forms of encryption. It’s a scary thought, made all the more frightening by the fact that this could happen in as little as five years.
“Anyone that wants to make sure their data is protected for longer than 10 years should move to alternate forms of encryption now,” Krishna explained.
Quantum computing will break virtually every type of encryption currently used by both businesses and consumers. And if such technology were to make it into the hands of a criminal enterprise or enemy nation-state...?
I’m certain you can do the math.
It’s not all doom and gloom, thankfully. There’s an alternative mode of encryption which could theoretically prove unbreakable by quantum systems. It’s known as lattice cryptography. Not only is it more efficient than modern public-key based encryption methods, but its basis in linear algebra also makes it nearly unbreakable through attack methods other than quantum computing.
In short, it’s our best defense against quantum systems once they come into the market. But that’s not going to happen in the very near future; for now, at least, we’re okay with sticking to the tried-and-true.
Quantum computing is a frightening prospect on paper. The idea of a system that could render most modern security protocols obsolete within a few years is an intimidating one. But it’s not like this will be the first time something like this has happened, nor will it be the last.
Technology has always evolved quickly and the business world has (more or less) always managed to keep pace. This will be no different.
About Matthew Davis
Matthew Davis works as an inbound marketer and blogger for Future Hosting, a leading provider of VPS hosting.