Technology × Freedom

Will Individuals Stand a Chance Against Quantum Hacking?

July 20, 2017 invisiblehand

First, the cool stuff:

Quantum computing offers processing power so vast it may soon make today’s supercomputers look as crude as 1980s PCs. There’s a downside — the technology might also render the most secure encryption systems obsolete, cracking codes in a matter of minutes rather than months or years. Gregoire Ribordy says he has a solution. And it’s selling fast in China.

For the past 15 years, the former University of Geneva physics professor has been developing something called quantum key distribution — a system that uses the technology to encrypt data so securely that Ribordy says it can’t be deciphered even by an advanced quantum computer. “The cybersecurity community must recognize the risks of quantum computing,” says Ribordy, a former researcher with Nikon Corp. in Tokyo. “Our challenge is to help governments and businesses be ready.”

The Bloomberg article goes on to describe the current arms race of sorts going on between China and the U.S. to develop the latest quantum key distribution (QKD) technology and deploy a virtually unhackable quantum computing network. And that's well and good for governments, but what about us ordinary citizens?

A pair of ID Quantique’s servers sells for about $100,000, and there’s a limit to how far the machines can be from one another: Quantum computers communicate by firing photons over fiber-optic lines, which become unreliable at distances beyond a few hundred miles.

So while governments will have the funds to setup these expensive quantum computer networks and "render the most secure encryption systems obsolete," individuals won't. And that will create an unfair advantage of (forgive the pun) quantum proportions. In the words of Motherboard's Bryson Masse:

…once these powerful quantum computers hit the market, only elite, well-funded players will have access to them. That means that the Russian government, for example, or the NSA will have the resources to break any crypto that an ordinary citizen could use today.

What's more, the high cost of quantum computing technology will probably remain high for a long time, for two reasons. First, that pesky patent system will keep competition out of the quantum computing market. For exmaple, QTEC, a company that's currently developing the technology for China and claims to have already built the world’s first commercial network secured by quantum technology between Shanghai and Hangzhou, has already applied for more than 30 patents. Second, when governments purchase technologies on a massive scale, it distorts the supply-and-demand balance, which also keeps costs prohibitively high for commercial markets.

But there's hope. The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre

predicts the cost of quantum key distribution will drop rapidly, and many researchers say it’s almost inevitable that quantum computing itself will spur sales of more secure encryption technologies.

And's new, crazy infographic suggests that "a satellite network using entangled photons for quantum-key distribution will create a fully secure, unhackable internet" by 2034. Yet in the gap between when governments can afford quantum computing and when indvidiauls can afford it, what's to stop the former from using it against the latter?