European scientists have spent over 100 years developing the field of quantum mechanics, delving into the properties of all atoms and particles, allowing for even the most complex problems to be solved extremely quickly. Quantum computers use qubits, which do math in a vastly different way than standard computers now- rather than using the values of 0 and 1, they take on multiple values at once, under the standard language of linear algebra. Last year, IBM built the largest quantum computer with 433 qubits, overtaking Google’s 54-qubit Sycamore processor. In 2019, Google’s Sycamore processor completed a computation in 200 seconds, which would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10.000 years. Just imagine how powerful 100 million or even 10 billion qubits could be.
Despite the speedy advancements in quantum computing, a recent estimate by the Japanese technology company, Fujitsu, has said that in order to factor a composite number of 2048 bits, or an RSA-2048, a quantum computer would need about 10.000 qubits, 2.23 trillion quantum gates, and a quantum circuit depth of 1.8 trillion. The company conducted trials this January 2023 using a 39-qubit quantum computer to see how difficult it would be to crack existing RSA cryptography, and they predicted it would take about 104 days to successfully crack RSA. Other researchers have estimated that it would take at least one million or even 20 million qubits to crack RSA. There remains uncertainty in the proximity of quantum computing’s ability to crack RSA and be equipped with enough qubits in order to break current encryption, however this could change in the foreseeable future.
Quantum computing, once fully functional, could mean that data encryption attacks could be able to target even the most secure data by today’s standards. It will have the ability to break the encryption that most enterprises, economies and governments use, rendering today´s encryption methods and devices to be totally useless in the future and cause international chaos if not upgraded to be quantum safe through upgrades themselves or plain replacement.
This does not mean however, that today’s data is still out of reach of quantum computing- this data has been collected by some governments’ secret services for future retrospective decryption once quantum computing will become available, opening a window of opportunity to hoard stolen, valuable information, due to the current lack of implementation of quantum-safe measures. Post-quantum cryptography must happen well in advance to not only tackle future decryption threats, but to tackle the ones happening now right under our noses.
On the other hand, it would not be fair to not mention the multitude of benefits that will come with the release of quantum computing- drug and chemical research will be faster and more accurate, diagnosing diseases earlier and developing life-saving medicines; the fight against climate change will be made possible through curbing carbon and methane emissions and developing cheap hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels; and decode a plethora of other unsolvable modern-day problems. With a good side always comes a bad side, and quantum computing with certainly offer both a yin and a yang. How we prepare for the release of quantum computing and how we will distribute its unthinkable power will make all the difference.