The quantum cracking fest: coming troubles for cryptography
Cybersecurity is one of the unsung heroes of the modern world. Every day it seems our lives become more dependent on computer systems and more intertwined with the Internet. From simple things like shopping on Amazon or social networking, to on-line banking, government affairs, business operations, communications, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, all of these operate on the infrastructure laid down by cyber space. And all of this on the basis that it is actually quite safe to use. For the average user, keeping a computer safe is as simple as keeping the anti-virus up to date and choosing long enough passwords for their personal accounts. As often happens though, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes.
Behind every move and transaction on the Internet there is a sophisticated set of tools and algorithms operating in the shadows to ensure your personal security and that of your assets. In the 21st century cybersecurity is on the watch always and everywhere. We, the users, passively entrust our security to its methods. And we are right to do so. There are always hacking events. Every year a few movies are leaked due to hacking of the big producers security systems . From time to time, the group Anonymous manages to take down some government websites . We all probably know someone who has had their credit card hacked! These problems are mainly due to human error or a slip of judgment which exposes an exploit . If we follow simple instructions we are essentially safe from digital threats.
At the basis of many of today’s Cybersecurity techniques are two fundamental tools. One of these is prime numbers. These are special kind of number: you can only divide them by themselves and have no remainder. 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11 are the first five prime numbers . Prime numbers are very interesting for cryptography. If you build a number out of two very large primes, factorizing it will be extremely difficult and laborious . This is at the very foundation of encryption techniques like RSA.
The second fundamental tool is random numbers . These are important because, as their name indicates, they allow a degree of uncertainty to be introduced in our safety systems. Once again we are faced with a problem though: computers cannot generate truly random numbers.I If enough of them are sampled from a particular source a pattern can be found. And patterns mean predictability. These appear because behind what looks like a random number is often a deterministic physical process. For this reason, random number generators are more correctly called pseudo-random number generators . Usually this isn’t a problem though, as the patterns are not visible for trillions of iterations of the random number generator.
The combination of these tools essentially has the effect of a being a extremely strong deterrent. They allow for the implementation of very good encryption systems and very safe computer networks, but the fact that these systems are only good enough for their current jobs, and far from perfect, is an ever-present caveat. They are a deterrent because current computers do not allow for an efficient attack at the basis of cybersecurity systems. However, the advent of quantum computing may expose the truth about these methods .
As their name indicates, quantum computers are based on the principles ruling the atomic world, quantum physics. Once quantum computers become widely available, many commonly used encryption methods will cease to be safe. And with them the way of life we have built around cyberspace.
Does this, in a post-quantum Computing world, mean the end of Internet shopping, home based business and the safety of our private information? Yes, if no new solution is implemented there will be no more safety for online data. However, the solution to this problem can be found at its origin. Protection from the threat of quantum computing comes from quantum physics itself, from quantum entanglement .
Image credit: Christiaan Colen