• Tue. Nov 28th, 2023

    Critical Thought

    Critical thoughts on quantum technologies

    The Quantum Revolution: Preparing for the Unthinkable

    ByThemba Hadebe

    Nov 21, 2023
    The Quantum Revolution: Preparing for the Unthinkable

    In recent years, the buzz around quantum computing has raised questions about the future of encryption algorithms. Will quantum computers be able to crack the codes that currently protect our digital communications? The answer is not yet, but we must be ready for when they can.

    The foundation of our digital security lies in public key cryptography (PKC), which enables secure communication and authentication. PKC relies on two mathematical problems – factoring large numbers and calculating the discrete logarithm – that are currently believed to be impossible to solve within a reasonable timeframe using conventional computers and mathematical knowledge.

    However, the development of a true quantum computer could change everything. Quantum computers have the potential to solve these mathematical problems in a matter of days or even hours, rendering current encryption algorithms useless. This would have significant implications for the confidentiality and integrity of digital communications across the globe.

    At the forefront of this potential collapse is Shor’s algorithm, created by mathematician Peter Shor in 1994. This algorithm is capable of solving complex mathematical problems, including factoring large numbers. However, Shor’s algorithm can only run on quantum computers, which are still in the early stages of development.

    According to quantum computing expert Olivier Ezratty, there are significant technological hurdles to overcome before quantum computers with the necessary qubit quality and quantity are realized. We are still far from having the capacity and stability required to break RSA keys or any other encryption algorithms.

    Nevertheless, preparation is crucial. The possibility of retroactive attacks, where encrypted communications are captured now for decryption in the future, poses a significant risk to long-term data security. Sectors such as defense and healthcare could be particularly vulnerable to such attacks.

    To mitigate this quantum threat, researchers and organizations are working on post-quantum cryptography. In the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched the “Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization” call for contributions in 2016. This initiative aims to identify encryption algorithms capable of withstanding attacks from future quantum computers.

    French researchers are actively involved in this work, with the CRYSTALS-Kyber algorithm selected for public key encryption and key establishment. The CRYSTALS-Dilithium algorithm, along with Falcon, are being considered for electronic signature generation. These post-quantum algorithms provide security not only against the current threat but also against future quantum attacks.

    Post-quantum cryptography offers several advantages compared to other quantum security solutions like quantum key distribution. These algorithms can run on existing devices and infrastructure, requiring no major hardware changes. This means they can be readily deployed in advance to protect against the quantum threat.

    While the standardization efforts of NIST are promising, ANSSI cautions against overestimating the maturity of post-quantum algorithms. There are still challenges to address in terms of security analysis, scaling, integration into communication protocols, and designing secure implementations. It will take time to fully understand and implement these new cryptographic solutions.

    In conclusion, while the quantum apocalypse is not yet upon us, it is crucial to be prepared for the potential future where quantum computers can break encryption algorithms. Post-quantum cryptography offers a promising solution to protect against this quantum threat. By staying ahead and adopting these new cryptographic technologies, we can ensure the security of our digital communications in the quantum era.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    1. What is public key cryptography (PKC)?

      Public key cryptography is a method of encryption that allows secure communication and authentication between users or servers. It relies on mathematical problems that are currently believed to be unsolvable within a reasonable timeframe using conventional computers.

    2. What is Shor’s algorithm?

      Shor’s algorithm, developed by Peter Shor, is a quantum algorithm that can solve complex mathematical problems, including factoring large numbers. If true quantum computers are developed, they would be able to run Shor’s algorithm.

    3. What is post-quantum cryptography?

      Post-quantum cryptography refers to cryptographic algorithms that offer security against potential attacks from future quantum computers. These algorithms can be run on existing devices and infrastructure, making them easier to deploy compared to other quantum security solutions.

    4. How are researchers and organizations addressing the quantum threat?

      Researchers and organizations, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), are actively working on post-quantum cryptography. This involves developing encryption algorithms that can withstand attacks from quantum computers and ensuring their integration into existing communication protocols.

    5. When will we be ready for the quantum threat?

      While the development of quantum computers is still underway, it is essential to start preparing for the potential future where they could break encryption algorithms. The adoption of post-quantum cryptography and ongoing research efforts are crucial in staying ahead of the quantum threat.