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Quantum reckoning: The day when computers will break cryptography

Read time 2min 10sec
Roger Grimes
Roger Grimes

An age of unbelievably fast quantum computers is only a stone’s throw away, promising machines that will forever transform the way we solve problems, communicate and compute.

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However, such powerful machines in the wrong hands could spell major trouble for the cyber security community, as many experts fear that quantum computers could also effectively break even the strongest encryption we have today.

So when can we expect to see these quantum machines in action? “There’s a chance that it has already happened, by either the US NSA (National Security Agency) or China, but we don’t publicly know about it yet," says Roger Grimes, Data-Driven Defence evangelist at KnowBe4, who will be speaking on ‘Quantum reckoning: The coming day when quantum computers break cryptography’ at ITWeb Security Summit 2020, to be held as a virtual event from 25 to 28 August this year.

According to Grimes, if it hasn’t happened already, many people believe it will happen within the next two years.

No more protection

Speaking of how this quantum reckoning could impact information security, Grimes says any secret protected by traditional asymmetric ciphers will no longer be protected. “This includes RSA, Diffie-Hellman, Elliptic Curve Cryptography – which is used in HTTPS, TLS, WiFi, FIDO keys, PKI, digital certificates, digital signatures and banking networks. Essentially, it would impact about 95% of our digital world.”

It’s not all bad news, though. He says along with the dangers, quantum computing will bring us many wonderful inventions we cannot even begin to imagine right now, much as the Internet did, but on an even greater scale.

Post quantum cryptography

There is a glimmer of hope in that post-quantum cryptography, or cryptographic algorithms that are believed to be secure against an attack by a quantum computer, might save the day.

Grimes says it’s a race, but that dozens of good quantum-resistant cryptography standards are being tested right now and there are likely to be some good standards in place by the time the quantum reckoning becomes public and widespread.

“But once the new cryptography standards are in place, how long will it take every person and company and the world to switch over to the new quantum-resistant standards? That is the real problem,” he adds.

Delegates attending Grimes’ talk will learn exactly what it is they need to start doing now in order to prepare for the ‘quantum reckoning’.

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