The threat of quantum computers is real and it could mean the end of encryption as we know it. Quantum computers are capable of performing calculations at a much faster rate than traditional computers, making them a powerful tool for breaking even the strongest encryption algorithms. What does this mean for data protection and how can you prepare for it?
What is quantum computing?
Quantum computing is a form of computing that uses quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform calculations. It is based on the principles of quantum mechanics, which describe how particles behave at the atomic and subatomic level. Quantum computers are able to solve certain problems much faster than traditional computers by taking advantage of these properties.
It utilizes quantum bits, or qubits, which are grounded in the principles of quantum physics in order to surpass the boundaries that limit today's computers. This approach does not increase processing power, but rather utilizes superposition and entanglement to handle large quantities of information which can be applied to materials design, pharmaceuticals, and power grid optimization. The first practical use of quantum computers is anticipated in these areas.
Currently, quantum computers are being developed primarily for research purposes, however, it is expected that they will be commercialized in the next ten years or so, and used for a wide range of applications such as data analysis and artificial intelligence. As the development of quantum technology accelerates, it could drive new breakthroughs in fields such as materials science, drug discovery, cryptography, financial modeling and climate modeling – just to name a few.
What is the impact of quantum computing on cryptography today?
The most significant impact of quantum computing on cryptography today is the potential to break existing encryption algorithms. This could have devastating consequences for the security of data that is currently protected by these algorithms. The most vulnerable algorithms are those based on public-key cryptography, such as RSA and Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC).
These algorithms rely on the fact that it is computationally infeasible to factor large numbers or calculate discrete logarithms, which form the basis of many of the most commonly used encryption algorithms. Quantum computers, however, will be able to solve these tasks much faster than traditional computers, rendering them vulnerable to attack.
What is post-quantum cryptography?
Post-quantum cryptography (PQC) is a form of cryptography that is designed to be resistant to attack by quantum computers. It uses mathematical algorithms that are believed to be secure against attacks from quantum computers, even when they become powerful enough to break traditional encryption algorithms.
The timeline of post-quantum cryptography is a relatively short one, as the concept has only been around for a few years. The first major milestone in this area was the publication of the NIST Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization Process, which was started in 2016. The chosen winners of the NIST process are expected to become standardized in the next year or so.
Migration to Post-Quantum Cryptography
As quantum computers become increasingly powerful, they will ultimately be able to crack current public-key algorithms, leaving many of the secure communications protocols vulnerable that we use today. This includes all digital information transferred through websites and apps, as well as secure databases that store sensitive data such as financial information or healthcare records. Any malicious actor with access to a powerful quantum computer could potentially steal this data with ease.
It is therefore vital for us to begin preparing for migration to post-quantum cryptographic algorithms now before bad actors get the chance to harvest sensitive data. To do this, organizations must upgrade their hardware, software, and services so that when it becomes necessary to switch over to post-quantum cryptography, there will not be any disruption of service. Doing this work now will provide organizations with much-needed peace of mind that their digital platforms are protected from future attack vectors.
What proactive measures can my organization take to prepare for the increased prevalence of quantum computing?
As quantum computing becomes more prevalent, organizations need to take proactive steps to ensure their data is secure. Here are some of the top actions an organization can take today regarding post-quantum crypto agility.
Practicing crypto-agility is an important step for data protection in the face of quantum computing. Crypto-agility means that organizations can quickly change their cryptography protocols when new attacks are identified, allowing them to stay ahead of any potential threats. This allows organizations to remain secure and protect their data even as quantum computing advances.
This is increasingly important due to the ever-changing nature of cryptography, as sophisticated cyber attackers are constantly finding ways to crack current security measures. By leveraging crypto-agility, organizations can achieve significant long-term benefits in terms of both system security and maintenance costs.
Protect data in transit with Quantum Key Distribution
Quantum key distribution (QKD) is a cryptographic technology that relies on the principles of quantum mechanics to securely transmit encryption keys between two parties over a communications network. Essentially, it works by encoding information as individual qubits or particles of light known as photons. These photons are then transmitted along a secure line, where they are monitored and measured using advanced tools such as detectors and single-photon sources. With QKD, data is secured with a cryptographic key that can never be copied or cracked. This ensures that even if an attacker was able to intercept the data, they wouldn’t be able to use it.
At the receiving end, the qubits can be manipulated or combined in order to generate random numbers or even cryptographic keys which can only be read by the receiver who has access to the same secret information. Because of its intrinsic randomness, Quantum key distribution can offer an unparalleled level of security when compared to traditional key exchange methods. In addition, QKD networks are virtually impossible to penetrate since each quantum message can become invalid if any third party attempts to eavesdrop on the data being sent over the line.
Quantum computing is a rapidly evolving technology with the potential to revolutionize many aspects of computing and data security, but also comes with its corresponding threats. As it becomes more mainstream, organizations must move quickly to protect their data with post-quantum cryptography and crypto-agility solutions. By taking proactive steps now, organizations can ensure that their data remains secure even in a quantum-enabled world.
However, this process takes time! Algorithms have now been selected that will be standardized by NIST, but the standards aren’t out yet and won’t be out until at least 2024. Furthermore, just like with any currently deployed cryptographic algorithm, there is no guarantee for the security of any of these newly chosen algorithms. Cryptoanalysis will continue, and new findings may render one or the other algorithm less secure than previously believed. This is nothing new, it has happened before when DES was broken, when SHA-1 was broken, when RSA with moduli of size 1024 and below became insecure, and so forth.
Crypto-agility is one of the most important steps to safeguard yourself against costly retrofitting in the future due to quantum computing’s advances. Risking a compromise of your encryption could mean taking rigorous measures later on so it's best to stay ahead of the game.
Cryptomathic's Crypto Service Gateway delivers a comprehensive crypto-agility security solution that allows organizations to prepare for the post-quantum era with ease.
Contact us now to learn how this cutting-edge technology can help you protect your critical information today.