The bits, the bytes and the quants
Let’s first explain what quantum computing is, and therefore we need to dive a little bit into computer history.
Your brand new iMac looks like it’s running like a dream, it’s really fast and absolutely no delays when using it. Due to its Solid State Drive it boots up really quick – and you are happy with that.
But let’s face it. Your iMac basically works exactly the same way than computers 80 years ago – electrical circuits switch on or off and thus create stage. The problem here is that current computer technology starts hitting its limits, electrical circuits just can’t get much smaller any more.
Since decades scientists are trying to figure out a way to make use of the enormous potential of quantum mechanics to build a new generation of computers. The good news is that scientists have now figured out all the building blocks to make quantum computers a reality in the very close future.
According to Microsoft’s computer research lab, quantum computing code could be working within the next decade, so it’s about time that we get a better understanding what this means exactly, right?
Our current computers run on bits, that’s the smallest unit, while quantum computers run on quantum bits, or “qubits”, as they are commonly referred to.
Unlike electrical circuits, qubits are quantum particles that are magnetically charged in an extremely cold environment, close to the absolute 0K temperature, in other words the environment where this is possible is close to −273.15 °C. The interesting thing about this approach is that this temperature keeps the particles in a state of superposition, which means that particles simultaneously can take the role of both, the 0 and the 1 in binary code, and this is how our current computer processors process instructions.
And this is where the real magic of quantum computing happens. Each particle can take indefinite states and what happens is the so called “quantum speed-up”. Quantum speed-up sees each qubit increase computing power exponentially, so if you pack enough qubits into a computer, you could outrun anything and any computing technology available today.
While none of us needs our emails load many times faster than they already do, researchers who rely on computing time and processor power while processing Big Data could make perfect use.
A Canadian company named D-Wave has already sold quantum computers to a number of labs around the globe – Google and NASA Quantum AI lab has one – but Google researchers say that these D-Wave machines haven’t really demonstrated the quantum speed-up effect as of yet. D-Wave disagrees on this Google Statement.
So eventually we should get back to the original question: Why is quantum computing a security risk for internet security?
Encryption algorithms, which are in use today – to encrypt web browser connections with servers, data, or whatever else I can think off, are secure. With the current computing technology encrypted packets would need 200 years to be decrypted by using brute force.
200 years seems a pretty decent security, none of us will be alive when information encrypted with these algorithms are decrypted. But what happens when quantum computers unleash their power? They are 1000 times more powerful than anything we know today and with the current technology. So while today’s technology would need 200 years to decrypt our best encryption algorithms, quantum computers in direct comparison would need less than a month to achieve the same. We could exponentially grow qubits though and the above would shrink to seconds.
Wow. So secure things aren’t that secure anymore you’ll say. And you are completely right!
The CodeCoda Research Lab is currently exploring new encryption algorithms which increase encryption durability and – if not entirely preventable – keeps decryption times, made possible by quantum computers, sufficiently high. For now – our research lab is already deeply engaged with technology providers to stay on top of this matter and protect our customers’ data sufficiently. Now – and in the future!