Imagine an adversary so big, and fast, and strong that it can overwhelm all cyber defenses everywhere in the world; smashing through them as easily as a hot knife passes through butter.
That's what federal officials are doing right now, as they execute a new plan to mitigate the risks of quantum computers to the nation's cyber, economic, and national security.
So far, quantum computers, which use the properties of quantum physics to perform computations in an entirely different way than traditional computers, and are much, much faster, are not yet advanced enough to threaten our security. But, experts believe that in the not too distant future; they will be.
According to a National Security Memorandum issued by President Biden earlier this month; a quantum computer of sufficient size and sophistication–also known as a crypto-analytically relevant quantum computer (CRQC)–will be capable of breaking much of the public-key cryptography used on digital systems across the United States and around the world.
That means it could jeopardize civilian and military communications, undermine supervisory and control systems for critical infrastructure, and defeat security protocols for most Internet-based financial transactions.
It also means that all of our current routers, switches, passwords, and security protocols, are going to become obsolete.
So, there is a plan taking shape right now, to migrate, upgrade, and replace current systems over time, with the goal of transitioning as much as possible to quantum-resistant cryptography by 2035.
In fact, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Security Agency (NSA) are now developing new technical standards for quantum-resistant cryptography, and the first sets of these standards are expected to be released publicly by 2024.
So, what exactly is quantum computing, and why is it both a threat to our national security, and an amazing opportunity that will drive innovation, create jobs, and lead to technological advancements that we can't even yet imagine?
Dr. Susan Ramlo