By Nicole Deng, Sharon Mok, Laura Wong and Andrea Kam
Quantum computing is fascinating, but in the wrong hands, it can be a bane for cybersecurity. Is cryptography a potential solution? Read on.
In 2019, Google used its quantum computer, the Sycamore machine, to prove that quantum computers can solve a problem in mere minutes. Experts working on the quantum computer found that their system could execute a calculation in 200 seconds, whereas a standard computer would take 10,000 years to complete. What on earth is this powerful tool?
It’s quantum computing, a field of study centered on developing computer technology based on the principles of quantum theory—the area of physics that explains how matter and energy behave at different atomic levels. Computers developed using this technology are created to solve problems that are too complex for traditional computers.
As great as they sound, quantum computers do have their downsides. Here’s a look at some of the disadvantages and the corrective action being taken to address them.
The downsides of quantum computing
Despite the efficiency that quantum computing brings, it creates loopholes in the encryption system, i.e., the process of converting readable data into incomprehensible texts to boost security. Quantum computers can easily breach this encryption.
Alongside Shor’s algorithm, a quantum computing algorithm created by Peter Shor in 1994 that inspired the development of quantum computing, quantum computers can break the RSA encryption system. The RSA cryptosystem was introduced by Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Leonard Adleman in 1977 and is widely used to secure data transmission through authentication and encryption. In the wrong hands, quantum computing can threaten cybersecurity by hacking your data and maybe even leaking it.
Quantum-resistant cryptography: a potential solution to cybersecurity threats from quantum computing
Fortunately, experts have come up with quantum-resistant cryptography that may counteract such risks. It can boost the security of digital information, which is why it is often referred to as “quantum-proof” or “quantum-safe”. Quantum-resistant algorithms encrypt and protect the data in a way that only the right person will have the ability to decrypt it. These encrypted data become unreadable to the general public, allowing you to upload them on the open internet safely.
For instance, post-quantum cryptography ensures safety for online interactions by preventing eavesdropping. The server will generate a set of qubits—the basic units of quantum information—that are arranged either horizontally or vertically, and users need to guess and formulate the code to decode the data. When an eavesdropper would like to decode the information, they would need to decode the message the same way as its owner because of quantum mechanics, which is simply impossible due to its complexity.
Are we at all safe even with quantum-resistant cryptography?
Right now, it is difficult to predict how quantum computing will change our world, as there are not a lot of common applications around. Still, quantum-resistant cryptography could be highly beneficial to tech giants’ businesses, such as Google and Facebook, which store millions of customer data. Plus, considering the recent cybersecurity breaches of crypto exchange Binance or Australian health insurance company Medibank, it is evident that cybercrime-resistant technology is the need of the hour.
We are venturing into an entirely new realm of physics, giving rise to use cases that we have never even thought of. Considering how classical computers transformed our world with a relatively simple use of bits (data on a computer)—comprising two options of 0 or 1—you can imagine the extraordinary possibilities when you have the processing power of qubits that perform millions of calculations at the same moment. For sure, it would be nothing short of revolutionary.
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