Mind-bending maths could stop quantum hackers, but few understand it

April 30, 2024

It may well become a reality when sufficiently powerful quantum computers come online. These devices will use the strange properties of the quantum world to untangle secrets that would take ordinary computers more than a lifetime to decipher. As the advent of quantum computers grows closer, cryptographers are trying to devise new mathematical schemes to secure data against their hypothetical attacks. ‘Quantum-proof’ encryptionThe task of cracking much current online security boils down to the mathematical problem of finding two numbers that, when multiplied together, produce a third number. Future quantum computers, however, should be able to crack these codes much more quickly.

Professor of Mathematics Nalini Joshi

Imagine the tap of a card that bought you a cup of coffee this morning also let a hacker halfway across the world access your bank account and buy themselves whatever they liked. Now imagine it wasn’t a one-off glitch, but it happened all the time: imagine the locks that secure our electronic data suddenly stopped working.

This is not a science fiction scenario. It may well become a reality when sufficiently powerful quantum computers come online. These devices will use the strange properties of the quantum world to untangle secrets that would take ordinary computers more than a lifetime to decipher.

We don’t know when this will happen. However, many people and organisations are already concerned about so-called “harvest now, decrypt later” attacks, in which cybercriminals or other adversaries steal encrypted data now and store it away for the day when they can decrypt it with a quantum computer.

As the advent of quantum computers grows closer, cryptographers are trying to devise new mathematical schemes to secure data against their hypothetical attacks. The mathematics involved is highly complex – but the survival of our digital world may depend on it.

‘Quantum-proof’ encryption

The task of cracking much current online security boils down to the mathematical problem of finding two numbers that, when multiplied together, produce a third number. You can think of this third number as a key that unlocks the secret information. As this number gets bigger, the amount of time it takes an ordinary computer to solve the problem becomes longer than our lifetimes.

Future quantum computers, however, should be able to crack these codes much more quickly. So the race is on to find new encryption algorithms that can stand up to a quantum attack.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology has been calling for proposed “quantum-proof” encryption algorithms for years, but so far few have withstood scrutiny. (One proposed algorithm, called Supersingular Isogeny Key Encapsulation, was dramatically broken in 2022 with the aid of Australian mathematical software called Magma, developed at the University of Sydney.)

The source of this news is from University of Sydney

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