Everything “quantum” is ridiculously weird — talk of quantum mechanics and you’re mind-blown. Allegedly, quantum computers would be so powerful that it would merely take hours to solve all the daunting problems that would be impossible for present day computers. What this means is that, the very moment the first quantum computer is switched on, it could be able to decrypt, copy, upload and download a ton of data across the internet in a matter of minutes. That’s the threat quantum computing poses — only if we do nothing about it.
Related media: What If We Had Working Quantum Computers Today?
Hello Quantum, Do You Read Me?
Let’s say you want to send a message — whether its secret corporate business plan, or a love letter to your significant other, how lovely! — it needs to be encrypted. Encryption is the technical means of encoding a message in such a way that only authorized personnel could access it, and nobody else can eavesdrop on the transmission.
Before you encrypt a message, you’d need a cipher — an algorithm that converts the message into a scramble characters, and be rearranged (decrypted) back into the original message. Nowadays, the internet relies heavily on two types of cryptography. The symmetric-key cryptography is the most widely known and oldest form, it uses a single key to both encrypt and decrypt messages.
Let’s Keep A Secret. Shhh!
Let’s say you and your significant other want to exchange secret messages, how spooky! With the symmetric-key algorithm, you and bae would meet behind close doors and agree on whatever secret key you want to keep secret, and later use it to send messages back and forth without your nosey friends knowing not. Meeting bae behind close isn’t always possible, and what if a nosey neighbor heard you and bae out loud and got to know you secret? Duh!
This is why there is the public-key cryptography: its a type of asymmetric-key algorithm since it uses more than one key. With such a case at hand, you only have to inform bae about how to publicly encrypt a message to you, but only know how to decrypt it. This is all made possible by some math which seems easy-to-do, but hard-to-undo. For instance, you and bae could multiply two numbers and send the results to each other, but an intruder (that’s your nosey neighbor) would have to figure out the initial numbers from the final results. Good luck anyway!
But in the real world, public-key algorithms rely on a challenging math problem known as hidden subgroup problems. Here’s the catch: Computer scientists predict that quantum computers would be capable of solving these hidden subgroup problems in a matter of no time. This is because traditional computers (that’s what we’d call regular computers then) are capable of manipulating every tiny bit of information (pun intended) — either a ‘0’ or a ‘1.’ But quantum bits, or “Qbits” (how awesome for a name) can either exist as 0, 1, and all decimal numbers in between.
Quantum Is Coming!
In comparison, quantum computers would be over million times more powerful than traditional computers that still depends on present day encryption algorithms. Although quantum computers aren’t a thing yet, it’s predicted they’ll be here probably sometime after 2025. Soon and very soon. And the switch from traditional to quantum computer won’t be a flash, it’ll be a gradual process that would leave current cryptography at risk — even secure information from the past is at stake.
“An attacker can record our secure communication today and break it with a quantum computer years later.” warns Tanja Lange, a professor of Cryptology at Eindhoven University of Technology. “All of today’s secrets will be lost.”
Alas, there’s hope. Lange is the lead research consortium on the Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQCrypto), the combination of the intellectual prowess of 11 different universities and companies to create new ways of cryptography — without the use of hidden subgroup problems. The project started in 2015 and its estimated to take up to 20 years after development to be operational. This is the hope we have for now. Quantum computing will soon be here, and its time we get ready for them.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Wed, Jul 03, 2019.