(TechnologyReview) A new report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says we need to speed up preparations for the time when super-powerful quantum computers can crack conventional cryptographic defenses. The authors explain that computers that harness quantum bits, or qubits, promise to deliver exponential leaps in processing power that could break today’s best encryption.
Complacency would be a mistake. Replacing an established internet protocol generally takes over a decade, work to develop and deploy algorithms that are resilient against an attack by a quantum computer is critical now. William Oliver, an MIT physics professor and a member of the group that produced the academies’ report, notes that governments and businesses like banks often need to keep data secure for decades. They therefore need to be thinking now about potential future threats to the encryption they’re using.
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology is working to develop standards for quantum-proof cryptographic algorithms related to them. Negotiating standards, persuading vendors to follow them, and then getting organizations to upgrade their hardware and software can take years. Old data will also need to be reencrypted or destroyed.