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The Race to Save Secrets from Future Computers


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Troves of encrypted data harvested now and in coming years could, after quantum computers crack encryption protocols are broken, be unlocked.

No one knows when, if ever, quantum computing will advance to the extent that it can crack current encryption protocols, but within the U.S. cybersecurity community, the threat is seen as real and urgent.

Credit: Ben Wiseman

China, Russia, and the U.S. are racing to find ways to prevent future quantum computers from cracking long-supported encryption protocols and endangering national security, the financial system, and critical infrastructure.

While the most powerful quantum device currently uses 433 quantum bits (qubits), tens of thousands or even millions of qubits would likely be necessary to break modern encryption systems.

U.S. scientists are working to develop encryption systems that not even a powerful quantum computer can decipher, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) expected to finalize its guidance for transitioning to the new systems next year.

NIST said the federal government aims to migrate as much as possible to quantum-resistant algorithms developed through international academic collaboration by 2035.

Many submitted algorithms—four of which NIST recommended for wider use—are lattice-based, which promise to complicate decryption exponentially as more dimensions are added.

From The New York Times
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