Quantum computing threatens Internet security | technology

A worker from the laboratory of German technology company Q.Ant shows a test measurement with a quantum sensor.
A worker from the laboratory of German technology company Q.Ant shows a test measurement with a quantum sensor.Picture alliance (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)

Internet security, from the most common banking transactions to conversations on messaging platforms, relies primarily on cryptographic keys, which are strings of characters encoded by an algorithm. The difficulty of deciphering it depends on factoring, decomposing the algebraic expression into product form, ie: six equals three times two. But this simple operation becomes extraordinarily complex if the given number exceeds a relatively small number of digits, such as 261980999226229. This algebraic expression was analyzed by a rudimentary quantum computer in an experiment by Chinese scientists published in arxivwhich has not yet been reviewed, and revealed the vulnerability of the system and, by extension, of the entire digital society.

“The fact that quantum computing poses a danger to the encryption methods we have today is well known. In 1994, Peter Short [matemático del Instituto de Tecnología de Massachusetts] showed that a quantum computer can efficiently solve the factorization problem,” warns Antonio Asen, Research Professor at the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO).

This view is not unique. A 2020 paper by the UK’s National Cyber ​​Security Center acknowledges “the serious threat that quantum computers pose to long-term cryptographic security.” The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, for short) has spent seven years researching security algorithms resistant to quantum computing, and some proposals have been breached in just over two days with a laptop, as Ward Polence of the think tank has shown. IBM in Zurich, Switzerland, last year.

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Most researchers are of the opinion that for a quantum threat to be possible, further development of this nascent science is still necessary. Shore’s algorithm, a formula for deciphering existing systems, is called Rivest-Shamir-Adleman or RSA and is based on large primes (divisible only by itself or one), requires a powerful quantum computer, without errors, and millions of qubits. The last to be introduced, the IBM Osprey processor, is 433 qubits. Guilu Long, a physicist at Tsinghua University in China, admits in natureAnd That “increasing the number of qubits without reducing the error rate is not enough.”

“The current cipher,” explains physicist Antonio Assen, “we think it is secure because, today, we do not have an effective factorization algorithm. Humanity has been trying to find it since ancient Greece and it has not been found. But it could happen that a very clever mathematician will find this algorithm tomorrow And it kills everything. This clever mathematician could be a quantum computer. We don’t have what’s necessary yet, but today’s crypto-world could be weak once it’s developed.”

This ephemeral security that allows the preservation of today’s digital society was questioned by a team led by Bao Yang, of Shanghai Jiaotong University, when taking a 48-bit key with a computer of only 10 qubits. The Chinese group asserts that with 372 qubits, the developed factorial algorithm can crack an RSA key of more than 600 numbers.

Acín explains that the problem he solves is “not impressive because it can be done with classical computers”. “They don’t prove anything. They simply prove that, in this case, it worked, and maybe it will continue to work in the future.” According to the Spanish physicist, deducing the vulnerability of the 600-digit keys is exaggerated. Scott Aronson, a quantum computing expert at the University of Texas, agrees. “This is one of the most misleading quantum computing articles I’ve seen in 25 years. And I’ve seen a lot,” he wrote on his blog. Shtell- optimal.

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However, Acín acknowledges the merit of the work: “He proposes a clever way to solve it.” The work avoids Schoer’s algorithm and uses the algorithm of mathematician Klaus Schnurr, of Goethe University Frankfurt (Germany) to factor integers. “It’s a good thing because it suggests that we shouldn’t stick with the Shore algorithm, which we know requires a very powerful computer, and the terms can be shortened if we look for an alternative. This is interesting and innovative,” Asin says.

Anyway, the Chinese article managed to mention the weakness of the existing encryption system. Something that worries all companies and governments in the world. In this sense, the Spanish physicist explains that he is working on two possible solutions. The first is to “replace other factors with problems that are more difficult for a quantum computer.” It’s the formula that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been researching for seven years. The second is to develop “schemes whose security depends on the laws of quantum physics.” This second is based on the development of quantum computing itself, which is still in its infancy, and requires specific equipment, but it is already available.

Both approaches present a challenge, as the UK’s National Cyber ​​Security Center acknowledges: “Moving to any form of new cryptographic infrastructure is a complex and expensive process that needs to be carefully planned and managed. There are security risks as systems change and business continuity risks if there is unfair adoption.” expected on cryptographic components”.

A team from the University of Tokyo led by Hiroyuki Tanaka proposed a iScience An alternative security system called Cosmocat relies on muons, short-lived (2.2 microseconds) subatomic particles that are only found in cosmic rays and laboratories.

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Fundamentally, the problem with our current security model is that it relies on encrypted information and decryption keys being sent over a network from sender to receiver. No matter how messages are encrypted, in theory anyone can intercept and use the keys to decrypt Encrypt messages that appear secure. Quantum computers make this process faster. If we dispense with this notion of key sharing and instead find a way to use unpredictable random numbers to encrypt information, the system may be immune. A source capable of generating unpredictable random numbers is Muons,” Tanaka explains.

The proposed system relies on the fact that the arrival velocity of these subatomic particles is always random and this would be the key to encoding and decoding the message if there was a simultaneous sender and receiver. In this way, the keys will be avoided, according to the Japanese team. However, muon detectors are large, complex, and power-hungry—limitations that Tanaka believes the technology can overcome.

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