A Quantum Leap in Online Security

Quantum computing will render current online security tools obsolete; luckily, there are efforts underway to keep our data safe and secure.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

We all worry about whether our personal information is secure online and thanks to modern cryptography, we can feel relatively safe shopping, banking and filing our tax returns on the internet.

Cryptography is the art of providing information security using mathematical tools. These are the measures that help computers confirm that users are actually interfacing with the right companies when personal information is being shared back and forth.

These mathematical tools are also used to keep our other communications secure and prevent eavesdropping by a third party. However, with advances in quantum computing, this may all change.

“The main way we secure the internet today, and most of our information and communication technologies, is using a mathematical tool that will be broken once we have large scale quantum computers,” says Michele Mosca, Deputy Director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo.

“So this is no longer just a hypothetical problem, it’s a medium-term threat. And the clock is ticking on fixing this catastrophe; preventing this catastrophe.”

Mosca is developing cryptographic tools that will be safe against quantum technologies. He is also researching strategies with which to migrate from the way we currently secure the internet and all of our other information communications to a suite of quantum-safe cryptographic tools.

“Quantum mechanics is a new paradigm; a new language in which to write any physical theory. Communication, computation, any form of information processing is ultimately about manipulating information stored in some physical system. Quantum mechanics fundamentally redefines what’s possible and impossible for any form of information processing.”

That means the game changes when it comes to which computer codes are actually secure. Quantum computers use the principles of quantum physics to explore many computational possibilities at the same time and thus solve problems much faster than current technology.

“We need to, starting immediately, plan a migration from the current way we secure the internet and all of other information communication tools, to a suite of quantum-safe cryptographic tools,” adds Mosca.

“Problems we thought were simply infeasible, suddenly become feasible because we believe there’s this exponential power lurking within quantum systems. We’re just starting to develop the suite of tools needed to extract this exponential computational power. And we’re just starting to get our heads around what it means.”

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Michele Mosca is co-founder and Deputy Director of the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, and a founding member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He is co-founder and director of the NSERC CREATE Training Program in Building a Workforce for the Cryptographic Infrastructure of the 21st Century. His current research interests include quantum algorithms and complexity, and the development of cryptographic tools that will be safe against quantum technologies. Awards and honours include the 2010 Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award, Canada Research Chair in Quantum Computation (2002-2012), Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (2010-present), University Research Chair (2012-present), and Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013).

Research2Reality is a groundbreaking initiative that shines a spotlight on world-class scientists engaged in innovative and leading edge research in Canada. Our video series is continually updated to celebrate the success of researchers who are establishing the new frontiers of science and to share the impact of their discoveries with the public.