‘Quantum Apocalypse': Are New Computers a Threat to Our Way of Life?
The computers of today use binary code to store information in one of two values: 0 or 1, known as bits. These computers need time to solve complex problems. Quantum computers operate on a fundamentally different principle, as they use quantum bits – qubits, allowing them to complete difficult tasks in a second.
The superpower of quantum computers gives them the ability to decipher information a hundred thousand times faster than the ones typically used today, which could present significant security risks to classified and personal data, according to the BBC
The vulnerability of encrypted data to quantum systems, if they are to one day become widespread, may cause a “quantum apocalypse
“Everything we do over the internet today, from buying things online, banking transactions, social media interactions, everything we do is encrypted,” said Harri Owen, chief strategy officer at PostQuantum. "But once a functioning quantum computer appears, that will be able to break that encryption.”
He added that "it can almost instantly create the ability for whoever's developed it to clear bank accounts, to completely shut down government defence systems - Bitcoin wallets will be drained."
Meanwhile, the widespread implementation of quantum computers is not as close as it might seem. The current level of technological development allows the creation of computers with a large number of qubits, but the real challenge is related to the stability of such systems. Like all quantum systems, qubits easily lose a given quantum state when interacting with the environment (known as quantum decoherence). At the same time, the number of computational errors in the operation of a quantum computer is growing.
For example, experts from the British University of Sussex have calculated how much power
a quantum computer must have to decrypt SHA-256, the encryption algorithm for bitcoin and some other cryptocurrencies, in a day. It turns out that the task requires a quantum computer with 13 million qubits. 317 million qubits would be needed to do it in an hour and 1.9 billion – in 10 minutes.
As of today, the most powerful quantum processor from IBM has 127 qubits, and by 2029 Google plans to conquer the milestone of one million qubits.
Nevertheless, governments are already taking steps to prevent the technology's potentially destabilizing effects by creating lists of firms and hacker groups that are able to “break encryption or develop unbreakable encryption.”
Researchers from tech giants like Google and Microsoft are aiming to stay ahead of curve by quantum-proofing important classified data and implementing post-quantum cryptography algorithms that are stable for quantum computers.
At the US National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST) in Washington, DC, experts are working on a standardized defense strategy
to “protect industry, government, academia and critical national infrastructure against the perils of the quantum apocalypse.”