BBC asks: “What is the quantum apocalypse and should we be afraid?”
(FinanceYahoo) Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent says to Imagine a world where encrypted, secret files are suddenly cracked open – something known as “the quantum apocalypse”. IQT-News summarizes here,
Quantum computers work completely differently from the computers developed over the past century. In theory, they could eventually become many, many times faster than today’s machines.
That means that faced with an incredibly complex and time-consuming problem – like trying to decrypt data – where there are multiple permutations running into the billions, a normal computer would take many years to break those encryptions, if ever.
But a future quantum computer, in theory, could do this in just seconds.
Every day vast quantities of encrypted data are being harvested without our permission and stored in data banks, ready for the day when the data thieves’ quantum computers are powerful enough to decrypt it.
“Everything we do over the internet today,” says Harri Owen, chief strategy officer at the company PostQuantum, “from buying things online, banking transactions, social media interactions, everything we do is encrypted.
“But once a functioning quantum computer appears that will be able to break that encryption… it can almost instantly create the ability for whoever’s developed it to clear bank accounts, to completely shut down government defence systems – Bitcoin wallets will be drained.”
It’s a prognosis echoed by Ilyas Khan, chief executive of the Cambridge and Colorado-based company Quantinuum. “Quantum computers will render useless most existing methods of encryption,” he says.
“They are a threat to our way of life.”
Seriously? That does sound completely apocalyptic, so why haven’t we heard more about this?
This would indeed be the case if no precautions were being taken. “If we weren’t doing anything to combat it then bad things would happen,” says a Whitehall official who asked not to be named.
However, mitigation efforts are already underway have been for some years. In the UK, all government data classified as “top secret” is already “post-quantum” – that is, using new forms of encryption which researchers hope will be quantum-proof.
Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM are working on solutions, as well as more specialist companies like Quantinuum and Post-Quantum.
The US National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST) is working to establish a standardised defence strategy that will protect industry, government, academia and critical national infrastructure against the perils of the quantum apocalypse.
Developing quantum-safe algorithms is one of the major security challenges of our time.
But experts say the alternative – doing nothing – is simply not an option.