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Is Quantum Computing Ushering in an Era of No More Secrets?

In one of my favorite movies of all time, a brilliant mathematician creates a device capable of breaking the encryption used for air traffic control, global banking, and other critical applications. His company Setec Astronomy (an anagram for Too Many Secrets) has created such a powerful secret breaking device that there isn’t a government on the planet that wouldn’t kill to get their hands on it.

Recent comments from the head of IBM research warn that “Quantum computers will be able to instantly break the encryption of sensitive data protected by today’s strongest security…this could happen in a little more than five years because of advances in quantum computer technologies.” The IBM comments were focused on an enterprise security context, but there are many other technologies that are threatened by advances in quantum computing.

For example, early Bitcoin enthusiast Bradley Rotter was so concerned over the risks of quantum computing that he recently established a research institute to address the risks and opportunities presented by the technology.

“The elliptic curve signature scheme used by Bitcoin is much more at risk, and could be completely broken by a quantum computer as early as 2027,” noted Divesh Aggarwal in MIT Technology Review.

Major corporations like Microsoft and Google have set up dedicated quantum computing initiatives and Google recently claimed it was close to achieving “quantum supremacy”. Congressman Will Hurd, known for his computer science degree and career at the CIA, noted in a Wired Magazine editorial that “The impact of quantum on our national defense will be tremendous. The question is whether the United States and its allies will be ready.”

Congressman Hurd’s editorial was a call to action, noting that “As companies build powerful quantum machines, leaders must simultaneously understand the risks those machines pose and the counter-measures required. Executives in every industry need to understand the implications that quantum computing will have on their legacy systems, and take steps to be ready. At a minimum, that means retrofitting their networks, computers, and applications with encryption that can withstand a quantum attack….Whether it was the discovery of fission or the launch of Sputnik, the United States has responded to scientific challenges of the past century with resolve and determination. The US must do the same with quantum computing.”

What do you think? Will quantum computing usher in an era of “no more secrets” or will advances in quantum resistant cryptography relegate the issue to being one of “no more old secrets”? Let me know on Twitter @MattDevost.

Matt Devost

Matt Devost

Matthew G. Devost is a technologist, entrepreneur, and international security expert specializing in counterterrorism, critical infrastructure protection, intelligence, risk management and cyber-security issues. Matt co-founded the cyber security consultancy FusionX from 2010-2017. Matt was President & CEO of the Terrorism Research Center/Total Intel from 1996-2009. For a full bio, please see www.devost.net