Federal agencies of the US government are expanding their calls for quantum computing resistant encryption methods. In effect, the National Institute of Standards (NIST) recently announced a request for public-key post-quantum algorithms. This action follows warnings from the National Security Agency (NSA) about the risks of potential quantum-based cyberattacks and the NSA’s appeal for developing post-quantum algorithms.
Moreover, in the near future, it might possible for anyone to manipulate the awesome power of quantum computing. The astronomical price of a quantum computer would not be a limitation because, for example, IBM is offering to the general public quantum computing via the cloud.
NIST Calls for Post-Quantum Cryptography
Quantum computing’s extraordinary processing power will dramatically change the world by opening up fantastic opportunities for the creation of previously unimaginable solutions, enabling a new world era.
On the other hand, if quantum computing falls into the wrong hands, its immense power might be used maliciously. “If large-scale quantum computers are ever built, they will compromise the security of many commonly used cryptographic algorithms,” says NIST.
Considering that the latest scientific discoveries and technical development suggest that quantum computing is becoming a reality sooner than we thought, NIST has decided to take precautionary measures now.
As a first step, NIST has started developing standards for post-quantum cryptography. To this end, NIST is asking the public, through the Post-Quantum Crypto Project, for algorithms that could be able to resist a quantum-based malicious attack. Details of the requirements are in the “Submission Requirements and Evaluation Criteria for the Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization Process.” The deadline for submitting proposals is November 30, 2017.
This urge for acting now to be ready to withstand quantum-based attacks follows the NSA warnings about quantum computing risks: “A sufficiently large quantum computer, if built, would be capable of undermining all widely-deployed public key algorithms used for key establishment and digital signatures.”
In this regard, in January 2016, NSA informed national security systems operators and developers of the switch from Suite B Cryptography to the Commercial National Security Algorithm, asking them to plan and budget accordingly.
NSA specifically recommends in its CNSS Advisory Memorandum to replace SHA-256 with the SHA-384 algorithm. Notice, Bitcoin uses the SHA-256 algorithm.
Cloud Quantum Computing Becoming Available to the Public
Now, D-Wave plans to start shipping the much faster 2,000-qubit quantum computer model in 2017, which will certainly come with higher price tag.
Therefore, buying a personal quantum computer is not yet in the realm of possibility. However, you might not need to buy a quantum computer at all. IBM is already offering access to their quantum computing platform via the cloud.
According to its website, IBM is “offering students, researchers, and general science enthusiasts hands-on access to IBM’s experimental cloud-enabled quantum computing platform, and allowing users to run algorithms and experiments, work with quantum bits (qubits), and explore tutorials and simulations around what might be possible with quantum computing.”
NIST and NSA are starting to develop cryptosystems that would be invulnerable to quantum-enabled malicious attacks. In parallel, the price of a quantum computer might not be a deterrent for hackers for much longer. Indeed, quantum computing might become accessible to the general public via the cloud, at an affordable cost.
Although many believe Bitcoin’s secure hash algorithm, SHA-256, is sturdy enough to withstand quantum-based attacks, bitcoin protocol developers should nevertheless start taking precautionary measures to ensure that Bitcoin’s technology remains immune to any threat.
Do you think the Bitcoin SHA-256 algorithm is quantum-resistant? Let us know in the comments below.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, NIST, and D-Wave Systems Inc.
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