How Will Quantum Computing Impact Data Encryption?

Encryption is a key practice in many data privacy standards. It offers the security that even if sensitive information leaks, it’ll be unreadable and, thus, remain private. However, quantum computing could change that.

While quantum computing is far from an accessible, fully functional technology today, researchers are making impressive strides. While that progress is great news for AI developers, scientists, and businesses, it also presents a troubling threat. If cybercriminals use the same technology — which they inevitably will, as they have with AI — it could render traditional encryption useless.

What Are Quantum Computers?

To understand this threat, organizations must first understand what exactly quantum computing is. To do that, it helps to know how conventional computers work.

The smallest unit of data in conventional computing is a bit. A bit represents a value of either one or zero but can’t contain any more information. As a result, a single bit doesn’t tell anyone much, but in a large group, the combination of these ones and zeros can contain a wide array of unique signals.

Quantum computing, by contrast, uses units called quantum bits (qubits), which can represent both one and zero simultaneously. The idea stems from a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics — superposition. Superposition holds that something can exist in two seemingly opposed states at the same time until someone measures it.

A conventional computer can’t process the idea of superposition. Since quantum computers can, they perform much more complex processes in less time. A problem that would take the most powerful conventional supercomputer years to solve would take mere seconds with a quantum computer.

How Quantum Computers Threaten Modern Encryption

Quantum computing’s remarkable speed and accuracy threaten encryption standards. At its core, data encryption is simply scrambling information in a code that’s too complex for a computer to unscramble. Encrypted data is useless without the decryption key, as it would take years to decipher by running through every possible combination — at least for a conventional computer.

Traditional encryption isn’t an obstacle for quantum computers because they can solve highly complex problems in a fraction of the time it’d take conventional machines. A conventional computer would have to run through every decryption key possibility one at a time to crack the code. Quantum machines, by contrast, can calculate all possibilities simultaneously, deciphering the code without much time.

The Future of Quantum Computing

Of course, a quantum computer isn’t something anyone can build or keep in their room. Most are massive and require near-absolute-zero temperatures to run without overheating. However, that will change as technology advances. Experts also predict quantum computing will operate on a cloud model — giving people access to these machines without physically owning one.

Cybercriminals could theoretically steal encrypted data today and hold it until quantum-as-a-service (QaaS) becomes more accessible. Once it does, they can immediately decipher this sensitive stolen data and use it for larger attacks. 

How Quantum Threats Could Change Security Standards

In light of this threat, privacy and encryption practices must change. Regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require encryption as a protective measure. However, if conventional encryption becomes insufficient, these rules won’t hold organizations to an adequate standard. The regulatory landscape should and will evolve to consider quantum threats, requiring businesses to adapt alongside it.

This shift will likely involve a move away from today’s factorization-based encryption. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has already selected four quantum-resistant encryption methods to integrate into future standards. These algorithms use more complex and varied means of encrypting data, so even a quantum computer would struggle to decrypt them.

Advanced Encryption Methods

Quantum computing itself could hold the answer. Leading security organizations may use quantum computers to generate new, far more advanced data encryption methods for businesses. This fight-fire-with-fire approach could help regulators capitalize on this powerful technology before cybercriminals can.

Finally, regulators and businesses must realize that encryption alone can’t be their sole protection method. While it’s a useful tool, it doesn’t stop all threats, especially amid rising risks from quantum computing. Balancing encryption with preventive measures is critical to staying safe.

Quantum Computing Presents New Threats and Opportunities

Quantum computing will revolutionize the technology field. While that will likely mean new, more reliable protections, it will also introduce more dangerous cyber threats.

Organizations must stay on top of these changes to remain safe and compliant. Technology advances quickly, so relevant standards and defenses must likewise evolve rapidly. Keeping up-to-date on emerging threats and potential solutions is the first step to ongoing compliance and security.

Lavanya Rathnam

Lavanya Rathnam is an experienced technology, finance, and compliance writer. She combines her keen understanding of regulatory frameworks and industry best practices with exemplary writing skills to communicate complex concepts of Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) in clear and accessible language. Lavanya specializes in creating informative and engaging content that educates and empowers readers to make informed decisions. She also works with different companies in the Web 3.0, blockchain, fintech, and EV industries to assess their products’ compliance with evolving regulations and standards.

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