There’s been a lot of hype about Quantum Computing,
how it will change the work and how soon that all might happen. Those of us in the security world are also wondering how Quantum computing may impact our ability to protect encryption algorithms and machine identities in general. So, as we look to the new year, I surveyed a select group of my peers to learn how they feel that Quantum computing and cryptography will change the world in 2020 and beyond.
For one, Anastasios Arampatzis feels that there may be geopolitical ramifications. Here’s what other experts had to say:
- Expect an Influx of Quantum-inspired Innovation
Mark Miller, Venafi Sr. Director of Enterprise Security Support
We have been talking about quantum computing for a long time and we have heard of things in the works. Still, I will believe it when I see it. I am super excited if this is the case. As with any new technology or new feature, we will see an influx of innovation that follows. The new challenges and the new opportunities are exciting and maybe especially for the people that look for good or bad intended solutions.
- Prepare to Manage Risk with Shorter Certificate Lifespans
Ashish Pala, Venafi Security Architect
The encryption algorithms have to get strong enough to be considered quantum proof. Currently AES for generic encryption and Simon cipher, in context of IoT, amongst others are considered secure. However, these are symmetric key algorithms. The challenge continues to puzzle crypto-community to overcome asymmetric keys which can be computed by quantum computers using Shor’s algorithm. Therefore, the crypto assets forms like certificates, SSH keys and such other are at risk.
Numerous algorithms have been proposed for post quantum public key cryptography, however, none have been taken forward for practical test in the field for various reasons. While we await a breakthrough in quantum-safe cryptography, there is even greater focus from all corners on producing a quantum computer that truly challenges all existing methods of cryptography. The short answer until then is start adapting short-lived certificates.
- Anticipate New Frontiers in SSH Key Inspection
Of course, Quantum can be misused and some adversaries may already have taken a look at it, but like many game changing technologies it requires a lot of logistics and tactics to make it work with success. Quantum is not something you put in your traditional laptop bag and use for looking at traffic. Inserting quantum unseen in the middle may be a logistic challenge that is likely only achievable for advanced state sponsored attackers who have both access to large boundary network taps plus the operational capacity to deploy highly specialized coding.
- Bart Lenaerts, Venafi Sr Product Marketing Manager
For SSH it actually could be a new enabler by both protecting and detecting administrative sessions into cloud workloads. Today, proxy technologies suffer under the high load of SSH sessions and can’t keep up with inspecting high volumes of traffic. Quantum could provide the power to encrypt the public part while inspecting real time sessions for behavior anomalies.
- Look for Asymmetric Encryption to be the First Target
Quantum computing and quantum cryptography phenomena is predicted to eventually replace our current conventional approaches. The immediate threat being the short time needed to break the existing asymmetric cryptography. However, the gain is very important as quantum cryptography provides strong security given its non-intuitive nature.
Slam Laqtib, Venafi Technical Product Manager for Code Signing
On the downside, machine identity will be affected since quantum computing will hit asymmetric cryptography as the easiest target. For example, TLS/SSL uses asymmetric keys (private and public certificates) to encrypt the communication between machines exchanging sensitive assets. Hence, the conventional keys and then the secured channels won't be too hard to break anymore.
On the other hand, quantum cryptography will introduce strong keys and crypto by taking random generators (randomness) to the highest level possible. However, the machine identity and digital signature concepts are still in early stage development with all sorts of restrictions but research continues and is likely to overcome all possible limitations.
- Understand that Machine Identities Must Evolve
Jing Xie, Venafi Security Researcher
Google's alleged advances in quantum computing might just have given a kick to the cryptography community to speed up their efforts and search for quantum resistant cryptographic algorithms that can replace what's currently being used in common cryptographic applications such as machines identities. Post-quantum cryptography algorithms are a positive and welcome reinforcement to the security of many of the cryptographic applications. Consequently, the industry will go through a migration and transition to quantum resistant algorithm-based machine identities but it will likely take place through a relatively long period of time before the arrival of practical quantum computers.
- Get Ready for Crypto-Agility to Become Paramount
Diane Carey, Venafi Product Marketing Manager
We've seen enough quantum computing progress from organizations like Google, IBM, and others to know that the question is "when", not "if" quantum computers will become mainstream. And when that happens, our current public key cryptography (e.g., RSA, DSA, ECC) will become obsolete. However, we don't know if “when” will be the next year, next decade, or further out. While the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been working on a project to create quantum-safe encryption standards since 2016, that work isn't expected to be complete until 2022. A step that organizations can now take to prepare is to evaluate and improve crypto-agility, that is, how quickly and easily they can replace cryptosystems. Having crypto-agility will allow organizations to respond faster when new cryptography is introduced, and has the added benefit of making other cryptosystem changes, like key sizes or changing to a new CA, easier.
- Be Aware that Some New Advances May Not Be Made Public
Mark Sanders, Venafi Sr. Sales Engineer
There are conflicting theories on the future of quantum. It seems we constantly hear that quantum computers will provide breakthroughs in so many areas including economic, academic, even AI - and how they will break the encryption that protects the internet. However, some experts say that people have been working on quantum computers for decades and we still have no practical results.
For the conspiracy theorist side of some of us, when an organization actually achieves quantum supremacy (when a quantum computer can outperform a digital supercomputer) will they actually let the public know? Would Big Brother keep his quantum computer a secret and spy on the internet? Or make big improvements in AI? Or create the Death Star?
- Get Ready for an Increased Focus on Encryption
Thiago Teodoro, Venafi Director of Product Strategy
There is no doubt that Google investments in the field of quantum computing, illustrated by their recent paper, will accelerate advances in encryption. We are moving from a theoretical discussion that quantum might work to a more practical model where it solves an actual problem. The announcement drives more eyeballs to both quantum and encryption, and, consequently, brings more incentives to increase private and academic research in the field.
- Prepare for the Worst: Some Encryption Will Fail
Grab your self-drying jacket and self-lacing Nike sneakers because with quantum computing, we’re going to hit 88mph taking us right into the future! I say get excited! It’s the “start” of a breakthrough that will spark imaginations and unlock possibilities simply not possible with today’s compute power. If you read Google’s claim of quantum supremacy, we’re talking computations in 200 seconds what would take the fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to produce. Quantum computing achieves this by moving beyond bits of either 1 or 0 and uses qubits, which store a combination of different states of 1 and 0 at the same time—referred to as superpositions. Think of it like exponentially more computational power within the same time and space. That’s incredible!
Greg Delaney, Venafi Product Marketing Manager
Now, it’s not particularly clear what we’ll do with this. The technology itself is said to be rather finicky to work with. A lot of the big names we expect are working on their own quantum computing including IBM, AWS, Intel, the list goes on. We’re just getting started. I’m most excited about what we’ll see in breakthroughs in medicine and artificial intelligence—modeling and computational processes that benefit from an exorbitant amount of compute power.
I hear about, and recognize, there are likely drawbacks as well. Can encryption algorithms hold up to quantum computing? Reasonably, I’d say some won’t but I understand some will as well. Regardless, some things will break and other things will get stronger—that’s what’s exciting about the continued advancement in technology! Now, where did I place that sports almanac?
"We rely on algorithms we KNOW will be compromised"
After reading all the expert opinions above, it’s pretty safe to say that the full impact of quantum computing is not likely to hit in 2020. On the other hand, now is the time when we need to begin to prepare for a huge impact in the coming years. And that effort must begin immediately. In the words of Jim Goodman, Co-founder & Principal Security Architect at Crypto4A, “Today we create and protect machine identities via certificates and SSH/VPN keypairs, all of which rely on algorithms (i.e. RSA and ECC) that we KNOW will be compromised when quantum computing becomes a reality. Hence, we’re working with partners such as Venafi to develop quantum-safe solutions to protect machine identities.”
Are you ready to start preparing for the impact of quantum computing?