Cybersecurity in the quantum era –

By Tirthankar Dutta

On October 23rd, 2019, Google claimed that they had achieved Quantum supremacy by solving a particularly difficult problem in 200 seconds by using their quantum computer, which is also known as "sycamore." This performance was compared with a Supercomputer known as 'Summit" and built by IBM. According to Google, this classical computer would have taken 10,000 years to solve the same problem.

The advancement of large quantum computers, along with the more computational power it will bring, could have dire consequences for cybersecurity. It is well known that important problems such as factoring, whose considered hardness ensures the security of many widely used protocols (RSA, DSA, ECDSA), can be solved efficiently, if a quantum computer that is sufficiently large, "fault-tolerant" and universal, is developed. However, addressing the imminent risk that adversaries equipped with quantum technologies pose is not the only issue in cybersecurity where quantum technologies are bound to play a role.

Because quantum computing speeds up prime number factorization, computers enabled with that technology can easily break cryptographic keys by quickly calculating or exhaustively searching secret keys. A task considered computationally infeasible by a conventional computer becomes painfully easy, compromising existing cryptographic algorithms used across the board. In the future, even robust cryptographic algorithms will be substantially weakened by quantum computing, while others will no longer be secure at all:

There would be many disconnects on the necessity to change the current cryptographic protocols and infrastructure to counter quantum technologies in a negative way, but we can't deny the fact that future adversaries might use this kind of technology to their benefit. As it allows them to work on millions of computations in parallel, exponentially speeding up the time it takes to process a task.

According to the National, Academies Study notes, "the current quantum computers have very little processing power and are too error-prone to crack today's strong codes. The future code-breaking quantum computers would need 100,000 times more processing power and an error rate 100 times better than today's best quantum computers have achieved. The study does not predict how long these advances might takebut it did not expect them to happen within a decade."

But does this mean that we should wait and watch the evolution of quantum computing, or should we go back to our drawing board to create quantum-resistant cryptography? Thankfully, researchers have been working on a public-key cryptography algorithm that can counter code-breaking efforts by quantum computers. US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) evaluating 69 potential new methods for what it calls "post-quantum cryptography." The institution expects to have a draft standard by 2024, which would then be added to web browsers and other internet applications and systems

No matter when dominant quantum computing arrives, it poses a large security threat. Because the process of adopting new standards can take years, it is wise to begin planning for quantum-resistant cryptography now.

The author is SVP and Head of Information Security at Infoedge.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and does not necessarily subscribe to it. shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.

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