Quantum Computers Could Break the Internet - Here's How to Save It - Seeker's Thoughts

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Quantum Computers Could Break the Internet - Here's How to Save It

Quantum computers could soon become powerful enough to breach encryption protocols used for online communications unless we take preventive steps now.

One step to ensure error correction for quantum computers involves making sure their qubits are error-corrected - something which would require several "logical" qubits that do math calculations, and many standard qubits to correct mistakes as soon as they arise.


Quantum computers utilize peculiarities of quantum physics to process information differently than conventional computers, which enables them to solve certain types of problems more rapidly than their counterparts. For instance, they might be able to factor large numbers in mere seconds whereas it would take even supercomputers decades.

However, these advantages come with risks. Chief among them is that quantum computers could threaten cryptography that protects many communications over the internet from email to online retail transactions - from email and email servers to encrypted conversations between two strangers who never met before using algorithms such as RSA and Diffie-Hellman to exchange secret keys between parties who never meet in person. A quantum computer would quickly try all possible approaches to de-scramble data - an outcome which would compromise security of those communications.

National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, recognizes this threat and has called on researchers to begin working on post-quantum cryptography research - though such work will take years to complete.

Quantum computers will soon change our lives in many other ways as well. Manufacturing could use them to simulate chemical reactions with unprecedented accuracy, speeding up research and development; energy researchers might use them to find materials which store and release more energy for batteries or solar cells.


Quantum computers pose a considerable threat to data and communications security. Encryption systems like RSA utilize mathematical principles to prevent people from listening in on online conversations or reading transactions made online, using algorithms which require both parties to exchange a secret key when exchanging encrypted and decrypted messages - something cryptographers have been working tirelessly on to make secure from quantum computers.

Scientists quickly recognized in the 1990s that quantum computers could take advantage of certain properties inherent to atoms and electrons to perform calculations that are otherwise beyond reach of traditional machines. Such properties include entangled particles - where one particle exists simultaneously in multiple states - as well as quantum interference which allows two atomic-sized objects to add together or subtract off one another in real-time.

Scientists have created quantum computers equipped with 50 physical qubits that are able to outshout even the top supercomputers on certain benchmark tests; however, these error-corrected machines remain impractical for use against real world issues.

Security researchers have developed alternative cryptographic systems which they believe are less vulnerable to quantum attacks; however, breakthroughs in quantum computing could potentially find ways to break these too, with potentially disastrous results.


The Internet operates using encryption protocols designed to safeguard messages sent between two people who have never met. These require exchanging secret keys which encrypt and decrypt messages; however, quantum computers could potentially bypass those protections, and therefore compromise its security.

Scientists realized in the 1990s that quantum computing could leverage peculiar properties of subatomic particles like electrons to perform calculations that seemed beyond the capacity of conventional machines. One task, described by mathematician Peter Shor in 1994, involved factoring numbers into primes (integers greater than 1 which can only be divided by themselves and 1) instantly using a quantum computer with sufficient computing power.

To build a quantum computer, you require many qubits - the fundamental building blocks of quantum mechanics. The more qubits you possess, the more powerful your machine will become; thanks to a quantum mechanical property known as entanglement, multiple qubits can simultaneously exist in two states simultaneously; for instance a two-qubit machine could store four possible values, while 20 qubit machines have the capacity to store over a million!

But a large, stable quantum computer remains years away despite predictions from experts such as Michael Biercuk of Q-CTRL's CEO that we may soon reach quantum supremacy - this means a device equipped with enough qubits will outshone classical counterparts in some computations but may not be fast or cost effective enough for other purposes.


Untold volumes of private information stream across internet cables and optical fibers every second, necessitating encryption as a method to mathematically scramble it so snoopers cannot decipher it. Unfortunately, existing encryption techniques are increasingly at risk from an adversary that seemed unlikely: quantum computers.

Scientists quickly recognized in the 1990s that quantum computers could take advantage of some bizarre physical properties - like quantum superposition and interference (like ripples canceling out each other), to perform calculations which traditional computers couldn't. Quantum computers would even have the potential of breaking mathematical locks on data stored online - potentially exposing everything from medical research to national security secrets.

Now, large quantum computers may seem distant; however, researchers have already demonstrated how a quantum system with just four qubits can factor small semi-prime numbers (like 15) quickly in seconds - rendering RSA encryption methods obsolete as a result of scaling it up for larger prime numbers.

CIOs can take several steps to prepare themselves against this threat. Engaging their technology vendors on quantum-safe solutions and auditing their data for any information at risk from decryption by quantum computers can also be effective strategies, along with installing cryptography that prevents such attacks.

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