Cybersecurity veterans and quantum computer development experts with IBM, Google, and other tech leaders have a dire prediction: quantum-resistant cryptography will take at minimum two decades to develop. In the meantime, as we’ve written, startups and tech giants are racing to make quantum computers available to enterprise as soon as possible — and when this happens, those same computers will be available to hackers as well. A standard enterprise-ready quantum computer could crack conventional encryption defenses for credit cards, passwords, and almost every other defense we use in our daily lives — opening a pandora’s box of possibilities for data theft, ransom, and international cyber hacking.
Why Encryption Could be a Security Nightmare if Hackers get Quantum Computers
82% of companies surveyed by NewtonX use encryption for either data in transit or data in storage. Encryption is one of the most commonly used forms of cybersecurity for data at rest and for digital rights management systems, including those used by Netflix and Spotify. Essentially, encryption consists of hiding information in an encryption algorithm called a cipher, that can only be read if decrypted through an encryption key. While it is technically possible to decrypt a message without a key using standard computers, it would require such enormous computational power, time, and resources that for all but the highest level information, encryption is considered secure.
Quantum computers could change all that, though, rendering encryption highly insecure.
Because quantum computing will increase compute power exponentially, the hurdles to decrypting a cipher without a key would be significantly lowered. Algorithmic defenses used by banks, healthcare systems, and governments could be broken in less than a day with a powerful enough quantum computer. This poses a threat not only to future consumer data and enterprise/government data, but also to the decades of historical data that are currently protected by encryption algorithms. Businesses will need time to overhaul their entire systems before hackers get ahold of computers that could break into them over the course of a few hours.
The Race For Quantum: Why Experts Say Security Needs to Beat Quantum Computers
Only 23% of executives surveyed by NewtonX said that encryption is a point of concern for cybersecurity. Indeed, right now, encryption is the gold standard for cryptographic security. However, executives who formerly or currently worked on developing quantum computers said that developing standards for quantum-proof encryption algorithms is paramount before quantum computers are developed — both in the U.S. and globally.
Indeed, China has made massive strides in quantum computing development and is likely to beat U.S. giants including IBM and Google. In September of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to help the US match China’s quantum technology. Representatives were warned that if China wins the race to quantum, it could surpass the U.S. military and hack American government databases.
Regardless of which country accomplishes quantum supremacy first, globally companies and governments will need to adopt new cryptographic standards. According to one quantum computing expert formerly with IBM, this adoption will be one of the biggest security challenges: re-encrypting data, updating software, and overhauling legacy systems could take years — and valuable data could be hacked during those years.