Battle of the Algorithms Quantum v Security

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Like black holes, quantum computing was for many years nothing more than a theoretical possibility. It was something that physicists believed could exist, but it hadn’t yet been observed or invented.

Today, quantum computing is a proven technology, with the potential to accelerate advances in all aspects our lives, the scope is limitless. However, this very same computing power that can enhance our lives can also do a great deal of damage as it touches many of the everyday tasks that we take for granted. Whether you’re sending money via PayPal or ordering goods online, you’re relying on security systems based on cryptography. Cryptography is a way of keeping these transactions safe from cyber criminals hoping to catch some of the online action (i.e. your money!). Modern cryptography relies on mathematical calculations so complex—using such large numbers—that attackers can’t crack them. Quantum could change this!

Cybersecurity systems rely on uncrackable encryption to protect information, but such encryption could be seriously at risk as quantum develops. The threat is serious enough that it’s caught the interest of the US agency National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Whilst acknowledging that quantum computers could be 15 to 20 years away, NIST believes that we “must begin now to prepare our information security systems to be able to resist quantum computing.”

Many believe that quantum computers could rock the current security protocols that protect global financial markets and the inner workings of government. Quantum computers are so big and expensive that—outside of global technology companies and well-funded research universities—most will be owned and maintained by nation-states. Imagine the scenario where a nation-state intercepts the encrypted financial data that flows across the world and are is able to read it as easily as you are reading this article. Rogue states may be able to leverage the power of quantum to attack the banking and financial systems at the heart of the western business centres.

The evolution of the quantum era could have significant consequences for cyber security where we will see a new phase in the race between defenders and attackers of our information. Cryptography will be the battlefield in which this war of the future will be fought, the contenders of which are already preparing for a confrontation that could take place in the coming years. The evolution of quantum computing will crack some cryptography codes but how serious is the threat?

In theory, a quantum computer would be able to break most of the current algorithms, especially those based on public keys. A quantum computer can factor at a much higher speed than a conventional one. A brute-force attack (testing all possible passwords at high speed until you get the right one) would be a piece of cake with a machine that boasts these characteristics.

However, on the other hand, with this paradigm shift in computing will also come the great hope for privacy. Quantum cryptography will make things very difficult for cybercriminals. While current encryption systems are secure because intruders who attempt to access information can only do so by solving complex problems, with quantum cryptography they would have to violate the laws of quantum mechanics, which, as of today, is impossible.

Despite these developments we don’t believe there is any cause for panic. As it currently stands the reality is that quantum computers are not going to break all encryption. Although they are exponentially more powerful than standard computers, they are awkward to use as algorithms must be written precisely or the answers they return cannot be read, so they are not easy to build and implement.

It is unlikely that hacktivists and cybercriminals could afford quantum computers in the foreseeable future. What we need to remember is that most of attacks in today’s threat landscape target the user where social engineering plays as large, if not larger a part than technical expertise. If a human can be persuaded to part with a secret in inappropriate circumstances, all the cryptography in the world will not help, quantum or not!

It is important that organisations understand the implications that quantum computing will have on their legacy systems, and take steps to be ready. At a minimum, that means retrofitting their networks, computers, and applications with encryption that can withstand a quantum attack.

Quantum computing presents both an unprecedented opportunity and a serious threat. We find ourselves in a pre-quantum era, we know it’s coming but we don’t know when…

Are you ready for Y2Q (Years to Quantum)?

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Posted on : 28-03-2018 | By : kerry.housley | In : Cyber Security, data security, FinTech, Innovation, Predictions

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