Imagine a world where secret encrypted files are suddenly opened and exposed – a phenomenon known as “quantum apocalypse”.
Thanks to advances in technology and quantum computers, this is the limit of the inventions currently being explored by researchers and companies.
Quantum computers operate completely differently from current computers, the main concept of which was developed in the last century. In theory, quantum computers could eventually become many times faster than current machines.
That is, it faces an incredibly complex and time-consuming problem such as cracking passwords – where there are billions of permutations, a normal computer can take years to complete.
But the future quantum computer, in theory, can do this in a matter of seconds.
These computers will solve all kinds of problems of mankind. The UK government is investing in the National Center for Quantum Computing at Harwell in Oxfordshire, hoping to revolutionize research in this area.
But there is also a dark side.
Many countries, including the United States, China, Russia and the United Kingdom, are investing heavily in developing these high-speed quantum computers with the aim of gaining strategic advantage in the cyber sector.
Every day, large quantities of encrypted data – including yours and mine – are collected and stored in databases without our permission, ready for the day when quantum computers of data thieves are powerful enough to encrypt it.
“Everything we do on the Internet today, from online shopping to banking to social media connections – everything we do is encrypted,” says Harry Owen, director of strategy at PostQuantum.
“But when a working quantum computer comes along, it can break that encryption … it can instantly develop the ability of its creator to clear bank accounts and close government security systems completely.”
Elias Khan, CEO of Cambridge and Colorado-based Quantum, agrees with that prediction. “Quantum computers make most of the existing encryption methods useless,” he says.
“They are a threat to our way of life.”
But if all of this seems so apocalyptic, why shouldn’t we ask more about it?
The answer is yes, all of this can actually happen if no precautionary measures are taken. “If we do nothing to combat this, bad things will happen,” said one Whitehall employee, who did not want to be named.
In practice, mitigation efforts have been going on for some years. In the UK, all government data classified as “highly confidential” is already “post-quantum”, meaning that researchers use new encryption formats that they believe are quantum-based.
In September 2021, then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the Quantum Research Facility – Photo: GETTY IMAGES via BBC
Technology giants like Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM work on solutions just like specialized companies like Quantum and Post Quantum.
Most importantly, a post-quantum cryptography “beauty parade” is currently taking place at the US National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST) outside Washington DC.
Its purpose is to establish a standardized defense strategy that protects industry, government, education and important national infrastructure against the dangers of the quantum apocalypse.
Quantum computing is expensive, labor intensive and generates a lot of heat. The development of secure quantum algorithms is one of the major security challenges of our time.
But experts say the alternative – doing nothing – is simply not an option.
“Music geek. Coffee lover. Devoted food scholar. Web buff. Passionate internet guru.”