Although interesting, that might not seem like very useful information for the casual observer. The most important piece of information that you need to understand quantum computing is that it leverages the quantum properties of particles to exponentially increase processing power.
For instance, Google’s Sycamore Quantum Computer completed a complex computation in 200 seconds. A calculation that would take even the most powerful supercomputers an estimate of 10,000 years.
Although that calculation does not have any real use outside the world of quantum computing it is still pretty impressive. However, that same capability of solving complex problems becomes a menace when it is faced with mathematical problems that should not be solved.
This is the case with cybersecurity.
Although Cybersecurity is composed of various components, including best practices, encryption is fundamental to maintain information unreadable for unwanted eyes.
Current encryption is based on mathematical formulas that transform this clear data into an encrypted message that is supposed to be secure. This way you can transmit or store information and no one without the proper digital key will be able to access it.
Breaking an encryption key is a mathematically daunting task. To the point of being considered impossible to achieve by today’s computing power.
The most straightforward way to break an encryption code is to try all the possible keys until you get the right one. It would seem simple, but imagine this:
A simple 64 bits encryption has 1,800,000,000,000,000,000 possible combinations. A 128 bits encryption code has more than 300 undecillion possible solutions. Even the world’s fastest supercomputer would take an estimate of a trillion years to find that key.
Up to a certain extent, conventional computers can do this. In July 2002 a group announced that it had uncovered a symmetric 64-bit key. However, it took 300,000 people and more than four and a half years of work to achieve this.
A quantum computing method called Grover’s algorithm, however, speeds up the process, turning that 128-bit key into the quantum-computational equivalent of a 64-bit key. The defense is straightforward, though: Make keys longer. A 256-bit key, for example, has the same security against a quantum attack as a 128-bit key has against a conventional attack.
Under these terms, a quantum computer that can operate trillions of times faster than the fastest supercomputer becomes a game-changer.
Encryption is vital to cybersecurity and privacy, at a personal level, at a corporate level and even at a government level. Although the current most secure encryption methods (256 bits) will not become useless against quantum computing, it’s security will be considerably weakened.
The implications of quantum computing in cybersecurity are tangible and it puts a lot more than just a text message at risk. We can only expect that as this technology evolves, encryption methods will evolve as well.