Cyber security experts throw a lot of technical terms around like ‘Advanced persistent threat,’ ‘Exploitation analysis’ and ‘Have you tried turning it on and off, stupid?’.
But the most common form of Internet security basically boils down to one thing: You have a digital key in the form of a password. As long as you’re the only person who has the key, your data remains safe.
Or Does it?
What if your key winds up in the hands of hackers? This can happen if the hacker manages to guess your password through trial and error after making multiple guesses. Which is why every Internet security guide insists that you create a password made up of random, unrelated words and characters and change that password every six months or so.
A small price to pay to keep hackers out of your private stash of fetish p**n
It’s solid advice if you’re dealing with classical computers. If your password is long and complex enough, the hacker would potentially have to run through several hundred million combinations of letters and characters before arriving at your password.
Since such a password would take more time to guess than how long the universe has been in existence, cyber security experts generally feel pretty smug about the sixteen letter long password they memorize and then change weekly.
Well, too bad, sport! The processing power of modern computers may not be enough to crack a 20-letter password, but it turns out that the computers we use now while gloating over their 30 Mbps speed, are actually the slow cousins to quantum computers.
Picture Rabbit VS Tortoise, only the Tortoise is in a Coma
So what are quantum computers? Unlike classical computers, which make use of binary digits 0 and 1 to store and transfer information, quantum computers store information using quantum units (called qubits).
These qubits make use of quantum mechanics to store information in a much more efficient manner(we’re talking 10,000 to 10,000,000 magnitudes more efficient), which dramatically amps up the computer’s processing power.
This, in turn, means that a calculation that classical computers would need a couple of billion years to complete can be finished in a couple of hours using quantum computers.
Oh, Crap, I’m screwed!
This will be a reasonable reaction if you’re a cyber security expert who just spent the past hour coming up with a 20 character long password and committing it to memory. Hackers can use quantum computers to power through billions of permutations and combinations and arrive at your password in less time than it took for you to come up with the password in the first place.
Can I get one?
So why haven’t digital security companies run screaming off a cliff since learning of the existence of quantum computers? That’s because while such computers are a viable piece of technology, we’re still a long way away from perfecting them to the extent that they can be handed out to computer enthusiasts to do with as they please.
For one thing, quantum computers need to be kept in perfect vacuum surroundings to function well. The slightest disturbance can change the processor’s quantum state and screw up its operation.
Another problem with quantum computers is that we’ve only just begun to come up with the hardware/software that will be needed to turn them into a viable commercial product. Experts estimate that it will still take a couple of decades to bring quantum computing technology into the mainstream.
Preparing for the future
But, the world’s foremost computer companies have realized the world-changing implications of quantum computers, as well as the very serious threat they pose to cyber security. That’s why even NSA(yep, The NSA) is investing in creating a means to provide security against hackers making use of quantum computing technology.
NIST has also got in on the action by calling for increased efforts to make the Internet what NIST mathematician Dustin Moody calls ‘quantum resistant.’ This is meant to help safeguard against the day when someone finally builds a large-scale quantum computer. When that day comes, security experts need to have algorithms in place that the computer can’t crack.
The first few steps towards creating those type of algorithms have already been taken with the adoption of crypto-agile software, which can rapidly switch out whatever algorithms have grown old and unusable at regular intervals with newer ones.
Much Like Actors who Play James Bond
Naturally, hackers are just as eager to play around with quantum software. An entire worldwide discussion forum has opened up where the smartest computer engineers collaborate to explore possible software that can be designed for quantum computers, and how to adapt existing classical computer designs to the quantum computers that will inevitably replace them one day.
So what’s your take on quantum computers? Do you think it’s only a matter of time ’till digital security becomes a thing of the past? What are some other questions you want to see tackled in the next Q&A session? Join the conversation in the comments below!