What would a cryptographer from the 90s said if we asked him/her to transfer encrypted data from some 2021 flagship smartphone to Windows 3.x using 3.5-inch floppy disks and later asked to decrypt it? I guess he/she would get hung up for a while, like an old-school x386 processor. And there is nothing unusual about that. New technologies always replace the old ones, and more often than not, the old ones are only suitable for a dump of “hardware”, or some library, or even a museum.
All clear with the past – we were there, and we know everything about it. Now imagine that we fast forward to the future (to 2051) with the latest 2021 iPhone. Here we will find a cryptographer and give him/her our brand new smartphone with a crypto wallet installed and our cryptocurrency saved. Then we try to assign this cryptographer a similar task – to transfer data to the relevant computing devices that exist in the future. Also, we complicate the task of decrypting the wallet and transferring cryptocurrencies from this wallet without giving the specialist any passwords. Now let’s see, whether a cryptographer from the future with the current technologies and computing power cope with this task.
Remember, we are in tech-driven 2051, and our iPhone from 2021 is already a museum piece. Meaning that devices for transferring data to quantum computers have already been invented, and they certainly exist somewhere in the service centers of the future. And the data transfer is carried out through one of such centers.
But what about data decryption? We probably have a fortune of digital gold in our wallets, and we don’t want to lose it. A quantum computer with an AI-based operating system comes to rescue us, and a smart system completes our task in a fraction of a second. All data decrypted, passwords guessed and replaced on a new device, transactions completed, and we handed over our perfectly preserved rare iPhone to some museum.
Quantum computers and cybersecurity
This imaginary journey to the future shows not only the pace of technology development but also the transformation of computing devices along with cryptography. Apparently, with the quantum technology revolution approaching, the risks of quantum computing pose to today’s cryptographic tools and the critical data they protect are growing.
Quantum computers will be much better at breaking the most advanced security systems. Not only government data protection systems are under threat, but also blockchain systems – often called the most effective in terms of security and information integrity. The future AI-driven quantum computers will be able to hack today’s most secure systems as easily as a toddler counts from 1 to 3.
Still, quantum computers are not the entire quantum revolution. It will probably not come alone, but with a whole range of technologies: quantum artificial intelligence, quantum cryptography, quantum blockchain, and others.
To assess the risks associated with the emergence of these technologies correctly, you need to understand not only how they can be related to each other, but also who developed and implemented those technologies, as well as for what purpose. Quantum technologies, neuro-technologies and artificial intelligence, wireless communication technologies, blockchain, robotics and sensing components, new manufacturing technologies, virtual and augmented reality need to be researched right now to understand the risks, improve cryptography and cybersecurity.
Post-quantum research efforts
Dedicated research centers predict a significant increase in the computing power of systems, and the solution of problems previously inaccessible to scientists, government organizations, and businesses. Also, here comes the threat for cryptography widely applied nowadays.
They found that current encryption standards provide protection only against modern hacking and data theft technologies, but do not take into account either quantum computers or AI possibilities. The awareness of these threats prompted many experts to develop a new generation of quantum-resistant cryptographic tools (often referred to as “post-quantum” or PQ cryptography).
The experts from leading universities in the United States are here to accelerate progress in quantum informatics, including PQ cryptography (the University of Maryland, Duke University, Harvard University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New Mexico). The Quantum Information Edge Alliance will tackle the complex challenge of creating full-fledged quantum systems, not only some individual components of such systems. The organization will be chaired by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
Moreover, US Universities are not the only ones claiming leadership in the quantum field. Chinese scientists published an article in the Science magazine, stating they created a working prototype of a quantum computer, exceeding its performance 10 ^ 14 (10 to 14) times the existing prototypes from Google and IBM.
Meanwhile, the Defense Information Systems Agency of the US Department of Defense (DISA) is actively investigating post-quantum cryptography that will support secure encryption in the face of quantum computers. And the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) organized a global collaborative effort among cryptographers to work on cryptanalysis, optimization, and fine-tuning the new standards. This nearly ten-year process is planned to be implemented in the next two to four years and culminate in the development of several fundamental PQ cryptographic algorithms. After that, we can expect governments and industries to plunge into much broader, large-scale, and complex efforts to implement, test, integrate and deploy complete PQ information security solutions.
These and other dedicated organizations can and should take steps to prepare for the post-quantum world today. This would allow us to determine exactly how vulnerable we are to cyberattacks quantum computing is capable of, and to prioritize these vulnerabilities.
To avoid negative scenarios with hacking, data theft, declassification of classified information, they must develop, implement, test, integrate, deploy and maintain new PQ security solutions in the global IT infrastructure, laying the foundation for a safe migration to the quantum world.
By identifying vulnerabilities in the post-quantum future and ensuring the cryptographic flexibility of IT infrastructures and processes, organizations in both the public and private sectors can prepare
for this new reality. These efforts will protect the national and economic security of countries throughout the post-quantum world.
The quantum world is knocking more and more on our present, bringing huge changes, new technologies, and inventions. Post-quantum cryptography is one of the most important parts of this new world, which has already opened a window of new possibilities today.