The Quantum Computer Threat To Encryption Should Be Taken Seriously

The advanced computing capabilities of quantum computers will render most traditional encryption protocols used today obsolete. 

Quantum computing takes advantage of the strange ability of subatomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time. Due to the way the tiniest of particles behave, operations can be done much more quickly and use less energy than classical computers. Quantum technology can exploit quantum mechanical phenomena to solve mathematical problems that are difficult or intractable for conventional computers. 

In classical computing, a bit is a single piece of information that can exist in two states – 1 or 0. Quantum computing uses quantum bits, or 'qubits' instead. These are quantum systems with two states. However, unlike a usual bit, they can store much more information than just 1 or 0, because they can exist in any superposition of these values.

Future for Quantum Computing
Now if large-scale quantum computers are ever built, they will be able to break many of the public-key cryptosystems currently in use, according to NIST. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) wants to develop new encryption standards designed to protect the federal government from new and emerging cybersecurity threats.

The agency spent much of the past year evaluating 69 algorithms for its Post Quantum Cryptography Standardisation project, designed to protect the machines used by federal agencies today from the encryption-breaking tools of tomorrow. The submitted algorithms are all designed to work with current technology and equipment, each offering different ways to protect computers and data from attack vectors, known and unknown, posed by developments in quantum computing.

Matthew Scholl, Chief of the Computer Security Division at NIST, said: “This is to ensure that we have some resilience so that when a quantum machine actually comes around, having more than one algorithm with some different genetic mathematical foundations, will ensure that we have a little more resiliency in that kit going forward.”

NIST is also working on another revamp of encryption standards for small “lightweight” computing devices, focusing on components such as RFID tags, industrial controllers, sensor nodes and smart cards that are inherent in many Internet of Things devices.The US government’s current encryption standards are largely designed for personal computers, laptops and other general purpose computing platforms. 

NIST officials believe new standards are needed to tackle a range of problems, from increasing reliance on connected devices to dissatisfaction with current identity and access management tools.

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