Why Quantum Computing Advances Raise Privacy Concerns

Your data may not be safe

Key Takeaways

  • Recent advances in quantum computing are raising concerns that breakthroughs could put users’ data at risk. 
  • An international research  team achieved long-distance teleportation through 27 miles of optical fiber, according to a new paper. 
  • One side effect for users with the advent of quantum computing is that current security schemes could become easy to break.
Abstract technology background image with standing businessman

gremlin / Getty Images

Recent advances in quantum computing could mean a faster internet, but it’s also raising concerns among some privacy advocates who warn that quantum breakthroughs could put users’ data at risk. 

An international research team recently took a leap toward building a high-performing, scalable "quantum internet." The team achieved sustained, long-distance teleportation through 27 miles of optical fiber, according to a new paper in the peer-reviewed journal PRX Quantum. A functional quantum internet would dramatically change the fields of secure communication, data storage, and computing.

"In this new study we demonstrate the quantum teleportation of photonic quantum states," study co-author Daniel Oblak, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Calgary, said in a news release. "This work meets the technological benchmarks required for a quantum internet system to a very high degree."  

Quantum Internet May Mean Faster Communications

The researchers performed the measurements on two teleportation systems built by Caltech researchers. These quantum network testbeds use state-of-the-art solid-state light detectors in a compact fiber-based setup and feature near-autonomous data acquisition, control, monitoring, synchronization, and analysis.

"We’re thrilled by the new results," co-author Panagiotis Spentzouris, head of the Fermilab quantum science program, said in a news release. "This is a key achievement on the way to building a technology that will redefine how we conduct global communication." 

Conceptual image of a person standing on a computer processor.

gremlin / Getty Images

The recent breakthrough at Fermilab is just one of a number of recent advances in quantum computing. Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei have developed a quantum computer that's 100 trillion times faster than the fastest supercomputers. Quantum computers allow a different class of algorithms that are impossible for classical computers to perform. 

Quantum Could Break Security

One side effect for users with the advent of quantum computing is that current security schemes could become easy to break. Quantum computing could allow malicious hackers to compromise internet protocols such as HTTPS and TLS required for secure browsing, online banking, and online shopping, Ulf Mattsson, Chief Security Strategist at the cybersecurity firm Protegrity, said in an email interview.

"This threat could affect everything from military communications to health records," he added. "Essentially, nearly all of today's systems that demand security, privacy, or trust would be affected.

Another threat of quantum computing is the ability to try many, many permutations at once, meaning any system that can be 'brute forced' would be particularly susceptible. RSA, for example, can be broken if you can factor huge numbers; however, technologies like the elliptic-curve crypto (ECC) would be much less susceptible." 

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is working towards a post-quantum cryptography standard and plans to publish a draft in one or two years, Mattsson said.

Researchers at the Technical University of Darmstadt evaluated new methods based on lattice cryptography, also popular in homomorphic encryption. "The new methods will be added to web browsers and other internet applications and integrated with standard internet protocols like HTTPS," Mattsson added. 

"Nearly all of today's systems that demand security, privacy, or trust would be affected."

Nobody knows how soon quantum computing will be a threat to users’ data, experts say.  "All we can do is guesstimate," data security expert Alan Myers said in an email interview. 

The most powerful quantum computers currently built are all less than 100 qubits. IBM promises a 1,000 qubit computer by 2023. "Researchers estimate that they'll need a quantum computer with several thousand qubits in order to be able to break current encryption standards," Myers added. 

The only way to protect internet users is to utilize systems that use quantum computing "to fight fire with fire, so to speak," Ahmad Malkawi, CEO of Global Telecom, an Internet of Things company, said in an email interview. Researchers are working on a true random key Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) that’s expected to launch in the next few years, he said. 

Quantum computing has been a far-off dream for decades. Now that quantum computers are coming closer to reality users should be thinking hard about the security of their data.

Was this page helpful?