Doomsday clock: quantum computers will break our defenses in less than eight years

Quantum computing is gathering momentum, and while the practical applications are yet very scarce, the quantum future is set to break the current cybersecurity infrastructure. Or will it re-invent it? Let’s see what the hype is about.

Modern quantum mechanics can be traced back to 1905, Einstein’s theories about light and quantum particles. The term quantum mechanics took about 20 more years to emerge. Slowly but surely, all the theories and speculations pathed the way for new technology, and today, the quantum race is on.

Companies like Google and IBM are pushing advancements, each bragging of having the fastest quantum computer. There are roadmaps of the quantum future, with faster and more powerful computers being developed every day.

What seemed questionable to Einstein over 100 years ago is now our new reality. But what are quantum computers? Is it really the next evolutionary step in computer technology?

Classical vs quantum computing

Not exactly. The truth is, classical and quantum computers are two different things. It’s like comparing a bike to a car – both will get you to places, but the technology is very different.

Classical vs quantum computing are even more distinct. If you take a regular computer and pick the technology apart to the very base, you’ll run into ones and zeros – that’s the binary system. Every operation, every single calculation boils down to the same two numbers – and the results will always have the same two outcomes.

Quantum computing, however, uses quantum bits, or in short – qubits. The operations happen on the way smaller scale. While the qubits can also represent either a one or a zero, they have a strange property – a third state called superposition. Let’s break it down.

Imagine the qubit as a clock pendulum, swinging to two sides. The left side is a 0, the right side is a 1. The pendulum won’t stay in any position for a long time, it will constantly swing in between, bouncing from one side to another.

In a similar way, the qubits exist on a scale from 0 to 1, being able to take any position on it, but never ever staying still. While the swinging of a clock pendulum is slow and soothing, the qubit is changing the states violently, spinning in all directions at once, all the time. That’s exactly why quantum computers are faster – the speeds at which the particles move provide the means to run an immeasurable amount of processes in an incredibly short amount of time.

Of course, there are more differences between a classic computer and a quantum computer – quantum computers need near-zero temperatures to operate properly, and they’re based on software. The technology is complicated, but it’s necessary to accommodate the incredibly fast problem-solving.

Because of the qubit speeds and superposition, quantum computers can take certain problems and solve them in a super short amount of time – just what the Google quantum computer demonstrated in 2019. But these capabilities bring downsides, too - that’s exactly where the dangers of quantum computing emerge.

Dangers of quantum computing

The doomsday clock by the Cloud security alliance dictates that once its countdown runs out (in approximately seven years and over 200 days), quantum computers will break the cybersecurity infrastructure, at least the one we know today.

Here’s why quantum computing is so dangerous – in theory, quantum computers would be able to break 2048-bit RSA encryption in just under 8 hours. A classical supercomputer would tackle the same task for 300 trillion years.

And so, the quantum arms race begins – Russia, India, Japan, the European Union, and Australia are all carrying out significant quantum research. It’s almost a modern-day space race. The US and China quantum computer development efforts are advancing the fastest. Both parties are chasing after the prize of cracking their opponent's records and state secrets. Whoever has the most processing power will secure an advantage over their rivals.

But where quantum technology poses a challenge, it also creates a solution – and that’s quantum cryptography. It applies the principle of quantum mechanics, and the purpose of it is not to break encryption –- rather, to create it.

The biggest advantage is that you do not need a quantum computer to make a quantum cryptography system – it uses photonic technology to transmit data from one point to another. The technology itself is fairly complicated, but it boils down to one specific advantage – any eavesdropper can’t read, forward, or copy the information without altering the state of the photon that carries it. If they try, the whole thing goes to shambles.

Quantum cryptography comes with the promise of being unbreakable. Whether such claims are possible, is still a question to be answered, but there is one definite certainty – it’s the future of encryption.

If quantum computing creates a problem and quantum cryptography solves it, what’s the point? Not everything is so black and white – quantum computer applications can have a much more positive impact. This technology could transform underwater navigation and help monitor the movement of data. By deepening our understanding of particle behaviors, it could also pave the way for significant improvements in medicine.

Quantum teleportation

And then there are some practical applications that may look like they’re pulled straight out of a sci-fi world – teleportation. But how is quantum teleportation possible?

This technology is not for human teleportation, at least not yet. It works on a much smaller scale, with the main application being the transportation of data.

Quantum teleportation relies on another property of qubits, called quantum entanglement. Turns out, two particles can link up across space and time, and if one changes, the other does too. For now, according to NATO, the greatest distance over which quantum teleportation has been achieved is 50 kilometers. Future quantum computing will tackle the challenge of scaling these processes, with one main purpose in mind - secure communication over large distances.

NATO also states that the main goal in quantum communication is to create a ‘quantum internet’ – a super secure quantum communication tool, backed up by the laws of quantum physics.

More from Cybernews about quantum computing:

Baidu reveals its first quantum computer

Quantum computing in warfare: sensing the enemy

The existential threat of quantum computing – interview

NIST names four post-quantum cryptography algorithms

Post-quantum encryption algorithms under rigorous scrutiny

Post-quantum cryptography is nearly here. Why the rush?

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