Introduction – what is quantum computing?
This has been defined as technology that:
“makes direct use of distinctively quantum mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data.”
How does quantum computing work?
In order to understand quantum computers, it helps to first understand ‘traditional’ computers. The computer or phone you’re using now to read this stores information in ‘bits’. This is a electronic and is a binary option of 0 or 1. Contrast this with quantum computers, which store information with ‘qubits’. These work in accordance with quantum physics, hence the name ‘quantum computing’. Quantum physics can be a bit counter-intuitive, with interesting ideas like ‘particles can simultaneously be everywhere at once’, or in the case of qubits, they can be 0, 1 or both at the same time! The bottom line here is that the potential processing power a quantum computer using qubits could far outstrip a traditional computer using bits.
Why is quantum computing a threat to information security?
The simplest way to crack an encryption is to try all possible combinations until you get the right one. The current information security encryption technologies essentially rely on the fact that our current computers do not have the processing power to do this. For example, even with a 64 alpha-numeric encryption it took 300 computers over 4 years to crack. Increase this to 128 alpa-numeric symbols and we’re talking millions or even trillions of years. However, with qubits and quantum computing being much faster, they will be able to try all possible combinations at a much faster speed.
When will quantum computing be able to crack the current encryption technologies?
Quantum computers already exist, however the current processing power is not sufficient to crack any of the contemporary encryption technologies currently being used. It has been reported that the technology required is now only few years away.
What can information security professionals do to combat the threat of quantum computing?
Companies such as DigCertLabs are investing heavily in staying ahead of this threat. They have developed (and are developing) new technologies which provide additional obstacles for quantum computers. So, for now, information security professionals can breathe a small sigh of relief. However, the real question here is this: Will quantum computers develop at a faster rate than encryption technologies? Or will information security professionals always be able to stay one step ahead? Perhaps only time will tell.
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