A little known technological race is occurring in the realm of computer sciences and it could have an enormous impact for those who rely on encrypted communications, experts say.
Technologists fear that a high-capacity quantum computer will be able to quickly and easily bust through modern-day encryption, thereby exposing top secret data and information for all the world to see.
Computers that rely on photons, neutrons, protons and electrons--collectively known as qubits--to do calculations rather than ones and zeroes are predicted to be vastly more powerful than even today's supercomputers. Development of such computers is underway, with the United States and China both working to create the next-generation machines.
They are thought to be a decade or perhaps even longer away, but those who send and store encrypted data have to start worrying about the problem now, said Bill Becker, vice president of product management at SafeNet AT, a provider of information assurance to government customers.
"Cryptography as we know it is at risk," Becker said in an interview.
At the heart of the issue are the random number generators used in cryptology. They aren't truly random, he said. They are created by computer algorithms, which are created by humans. It is the kind of problem quantum computers will be able to solve, he said.
John Costello, director of strategy, policy and plans for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, said the fear is a "quantum surprise."
China is investing a great deal of resources into quantum sciences and they don't necessarily have to announce to the world that they have developed a high-capacity quantum...