Quantum threat to cryptography and how to overcome this

August 30, 2021  |  Irfan Shakeel

This blog was written by an independent guest blogger.

We are familiar with quantum computing; know that it enables devices to do computations at an utterly inconceivable rate. It facilitates incredible advancements in technology. Ironically, quantum systems can make modern impenetrable cryptography hackable within seconds. Currently, quantum computers pose a high threat to the cryptography that underlies the safety of crucial networks.

Cryptography is a powerful technique for protecting data's authenticity, accuracy, IT infrastructure from malicious hackers. Quantum computing has the potential to disrupt most existing encryption methods. Although current quantum computers are insufficiently strong to crack encryption, an attacker may use a relatively strong quantum computer in the coming years to decipher, retrieve, or view confidential data.

Quantum threat?

Public Key encryption techniques like RSA now safeguard the information as it travels around the web. Such algorithms transformed information privacy and have benefited the entire globe by allowing online business, encrypted conversations, and banking and finance accessibility. Quantum computers, regrettably, will soon be able to decrypt existing public-key encryption. Such technologies are code-breaking variants that are now on the way. Because of their fast evolution, they have become a corporate concern that requires immediate mitigating solutions.

As per mathematician Michele Mosca of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo,

"It's beyond something you can just ignore, even though we still don't know when it will happen. The chance of it happening in five, 10, or 20 years is not a risk you can accept. It's a systematic threat to the global economy, and it's real enough that you have to plan for it now."

Quantum threat risks

In some respects, the threat posed by quantum computers isn't unexpected, as there's constantly the possibility of cracking cryptography. To maintain confidentiality, organizations utilize several encryption methods like symmetric and public-key cryptography. Though public key encryption is the most prone to quantum attacks, symmetric key encryption is also susceptible. Hardware security modules are at the heart of such processes. It is a crucial element of the physical architecture that holds and produces safe keys to verify and certify data utilizing asymmetric algorithms.

As per cacm.acm, Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Vinod Vaikuntanathan said,

"We live on the edge because none of the cryptographic systems we use are proven secure in the sense that there's no mathematical proof that these things cannot be broken."

The fact that quantum decoding may work retroactively further exacerbates the concern. Attackers might start gathering encrypted information from organizations right now to decrypt it later. Organizations might be unwittingly the victims of an assault now, to face the repercussions once quantum computers mature. Fortunately, many organizations are taking notice.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) predicted in 2014 that by 2030, they create a quantum computer sufficient for cracking 2000-bit RSA.

The quantum threat is so severe that as per NSA in 2016,

"There is growing research in the area of quantum computing, and enough progress is being made that NSA must act now."

The problem is that nobody understands how to create cryptographic techniques that are quantum-computer resistant.

Because of the encryption cracking quantum threat, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has begun developing the next level of encryption.

It will result in the quantum-resistant encryption techniques commonly referred to as post-quantum cryptography that will substitute for current standards. Critically, robust cryptographic technology will be available later this year.

Quantum threat solution

A successful solution to the quantum threat would need collaboration between parties to discover possibilities to transform research into quantum-secure technologies. The development, assessment, and implementation of quantum-secure options are post-quantum cryptography and quantum key distribution.

Post-quantum cryptography

As per MIT Technology Review, Martin Giles says,

"Without quantum-safe cryptographic defenses in place, all kinds of things, from autonomous vehicles to military hardware—not to mention online financial transactions and communications—could be targeted by hackers with access to quantum computers."

There will be a massive disturbance if web protocols are disabled, as they safeguard encrypted data transmission. Post-quantum cryptography's aim is, 'if you can't defeat them, embrace them.” A competition is currently underway to build increasingly difficult cryptography methods using quantum computers.

Nowadays, having remedies done as soon as possible is a good idea. As per Martin Giles,

"The pressure is on because encryption technologies are deeply embedded in many different systems, so unraveling them and implementing new ones can take a great deal of time."

Roger Grimes, from security awareness firm KnowBe4, said,

"[2021 will] likely see the first public acknowledgment of the quantum crypto break, where quantum computers will break traditional public key crypto."

Quantum key distribution

The objective of quantum key distribution (QKD) is to provide a robust solution for quantum threats. QKD is a safe communication technology that uses quantum physics to construct a cryptosystem.

The keys theoretically cannot break since QKD does not depend on preconceptions about the mathematical equations' computation complexity. It minimizes the possibility of an unanticipated breach of vital assets or the decryption of previously encrypted data using quantum-sensitive keys.

Quantum key distribution only generates and transmits a key; it does not send information. The QKD is still developing, and research into its privacy and adaptability is ongoing.

The Indian Space Research Organisation showed free-space quantum communication over a 300-meter distance in March 2021. Live video conferencing utilizing quantum-key-encrypted communications was part of the experiment. It is a significant breakthrough in the use of quantum technology to provide safe satellite data connectivity.


For cryptography to keep pace with quantum computing, it will need to use quantum technology.

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