Quantum Computers Threaten Future Of Internet Security

The Australian researchers claim to have reached an operational accuracy of 99% using two new types of quantum bits, or “qubits”.

These new qubits allow quantum computers to carry out calculations far faster than traditional digital computers, and the researchers claim to have solved the accuracy issue which had plagued quantum computing up to this point.

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Quantum computers: Positives and negatives

The technology will allow for progress in fields such as discovering how proteins fold, but other aspects of the technology are potentially damaging if we are not prepared for their effects.

The capability of quantum computers to carry out calculations billions of times faster than traditional computers means that in theory they would be capable of breaking public key encryption, which uses prime numbers so large that traditional computers would take billions of years to work out their factors.

Public key encryption forms the very basis of internet security as we know it, according to former NSA technical director Brian Snow. He claims that “within ten to twenty years from now, you could have a quantum computer at scale, large enough and healthy enough, to attack the trust mechanisms of the web.”

Enforcing other forms of encryption

Quantum computers do not hold the same advantage in attacking an older form of cryptography which utilizes symmetric keys mediated by an intermediary. Snow is an adviser at one such firm, PQ Solutions.

Any adoption of a different form of encryption would be incredibly hard to enforce. The lack of one “CEO” of the internet is one of its advantages, but in this case it could become a curse. It would be almost impossible to decide who should hold the keys.

The potential arrival of quantum computers is a huge challenge to the web as we know it, and could initiate the breakup of the world wide web into regional or national networks with their own encryption systems.