China Cancels Encryption

Chinese scientists claim they have devised an algorithm that could crack a very hard encryption nut, i.e. 2048-bit RSA, using a 372-qubit quantum computer. Their algorithm goes beyond one first authored in the 1990’s, which is the theoretical basis of quantum computing’s decryption capability, by using still another algorithm developed by German mathematician Claus-Peter Schnorr.

In 2022, Schnorr said it was possible to factor large numbers more efficiently than the previous algorithm and that these could be so efficient that you could break the RSA code, even with a classical computer.

Now, Chinese scientists have published a paper apparently explaining how a combination of classical and quantum computing techniques, plus a powerful enough quantum computer, could shred modern-day encryption. 
This potential break-through would threaten not only much US military and intelligence-community communication but also financial transactions and even your own text messages. 

One quantum technology expert said simply “If it's true, it's pretty disastrous.” However this potential break-through may not be all it’s cracked up to be.  The Chinese paper “Factoring integers with sublinear resources on a super conducting quantum processor,” is currently under peer review. It claims to have found a way to use a 372-qubit quantum computer to factor the 2,048-bit numbers of in the RSA encryption system used by institutions from militaries to banks to communication app makers. 

One reason that is important is is because quantum experts believed that it would require a far larger quantum computer to break RSA encryption, particularly as IBM already has a 433-qubit quantum processor.

The Chinese researchers claim to have achieved this feat by using a quantum computer to scale up a classical factoring algorithm developed by Claus Peter Schnoor. “We estimate that a quantum circuit with 372 physical qubits and a depth of thousands is necessary to challenge RSA-2048 using our algorithm. Our study shows great promise in expediting the application of current noisy quantum computers, and paves the way to factor large integers of realistic cryptographic significance,” they wrote.

However, Lawrence Gasman, founder and president of Inside Quantum Technology says he’s  sceptical of these claims, but  that  “It's enormously important that some people in the West come to some real conclusions on this because if it's true, it's pretty disastrous.” 

Gasman says that the paper’s most alarming aspect is the idea that it might be possible to break key encryption protocols not with a hypothetical future quantum computer but a relatively simple one that could already exist, or exist soon. “If you look at the roadmaps that the major quantum computer companies are putting out there, talking about getting to a machine of the power that the Chinese are talking about, frankly, I don't know. 
“But you know, this year, next year, very soon. And having said that, I tend to be a believer that there's going to happen soon.”

Andersen Chengwho is CEO of next-generation encryption firm Post-Quantum, commented: “The general consensus is that ... these claims cannot be proven to work there is no definitive evidence that the Chinese algorithm cannot be successfully scaled up either.... Even if this algorithm doesn’t work, a sufficiently powerful quantum computer... will one day be designed, it is purely an issue of engineering and scaling the current generation of quantum computers.”

The US government has become increasingly concerned about how quickly key encryption standards could become obsolete in the face of a real quantum breakthrough. Last May, the White House told federal agencies to move quickly toward quantum-safe encryption in their operations. 

Whether or not these doubts are justified, it seems only a matter of time until the first Cryptographically Relevant Quantum Computer with sufficiently power will be created - presenting "a silent but seismic shift"  - according to Andersen.

In anticipation of this event,  companies and institutions need to accelerate adoption of quantum-safe solutions, to safeguard the long-term integrity of their data and network security.

Shijie Wei/ Tsinghua University:     The White House:      Forbes:    DefenseOne:   Medium:    Inside Quantum:

Post-Quantum:     Reuters:      Basic Mathematics:      Image: Unsplash

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