Quantum computing is a technology that uses quantum physics to process information and solve problems that are impractical for current computers. Quantum computers could break most of the cryptography that protects data, transactions, and identities on the internet, including blockchain. Quantum computers are not powerful enough to break cryptography now, but they could be available by the 2030s or sooner.
This poses a serious threat to the security and privacy of our digital systems. A quantum computer of sufficient size and sophistication could jeopardize civilian and military communications as well as undermine supervisory and control systems for critical infrastructure. The number one defense against this quantum computing threat is to implement quantum-resistant cryptography on our most important systems.
Quantum-resistant cryptography refers to encryption methods that are designed to withstand the attack of a quantum computer. These methods are based on mathematical problems that are hard for both classical and quantum computers to solve. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been leading a global effort to standardize quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms since 2016. NIST has recently announced the first group of four encryption algorithms that will become part of its post-quantum cryptographic standard.
However, implementing these new algorithms across all of our systems will not happen overnight. It will require a multi-year effort involving government agencies, industry partners, and academic researchers. Moreover, we need to be aware of the potential risk of “harvest now, decrypt later” attacks, where cybercriminals could exfiltrate encrypted data today and decrypt it once quantum computers become available in the future.
Therefore, it is crucial that we start preparing for the quantum computing threat now before it is too late. We need to assess the vulnerability of our current cryptographic systems, prioritize the migration to quantum-resistant cryptography for our most sensitive data and applications, and educate ourselves and others about the challenges and opportunities of quantum information sciences.