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The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has issued a FAQ (PDF) titled “Quantum Computing and Post-Quantum Cryptography FAQs” where the agency explores the potential implications for national security following the likely arrival of a “brave new world” beyond the classical computing sphere. As the race for quantum computing accelerates, with a myriad of players attempting to achieve quantum supremacy through various, exotic scientific investigation routes, the NSA document explores the potential security concerns arising from the prospective creation of a “Cryptographically Relevant Quantum Computer” (CRQC).
A CRQC is the advent of a quantum-based supercomputer that is powerful enough to break current, classical-computing-designed encryption schemes. While these schemes (think AES-256, more common on the consumer side, or RSA 3072-bit or larger for asymmetrical encryption algorithms) are virtually impossible to crack with current or even future supercomputers, a quantum computer doesn’t play by the same rules, due to the nature of the beast and the superposition states available to its computing unit, the qubit. With the race for quantum computing featuring major private and state players, it’s not just the expected $26 billion value of the quantum computing sphere by 2030 that worries security experts – but the possibility of quantum systems falling into the hands of rogue entities. We need only look to the history of hacks in the blockchain sphere to see that where there is an economic incentive, there are hacks – and data is expected to become the number one economic source in a (perhaps not so) distant future.
Naturally, an entity such as the NSA, which ensures the safety of the U.S.’s technological infrastructure, has to not only to deal with present threats, but also future ones – as one might imagine, it takes an inordinate amount of time for entities as grand as an entire country’s critical government systems to be updated.
According to the NSA, “New cryptography can take 20 years or more to be fully deployed to all National Security Systems (NSS)”. And as the agency writes in its document, “(…) a CRQC would be capable of undermining the widely deployed public key…