What is post-quantum cryptography and why is it important?

Last updated: 21 November 2023

Whether you work in the tech field or not, it’s likely that you’ve increasingly heard of quantum computing.  

As with any emerging technology, along with all the possibilities there are also potential risks. We’ll be unpacking these latest developments, what it means for the digital identity market, and what Thales is doing in response.  

 In this blog we’ll be giving an introduction to quantum computing, and what this means for security and cryptography.  

What is quantum computing?  

Quantum computing is a type of computing that uses quantum mechanics to perform calculations much quicker than traditional computers.  

By using quantum algorithms, these computers can perform calculations that are faster than classical computers for certain types of problems, such as those involving prime factorization or optimization. Think of it like a maze. A classical computer solves the maze by exploring each path one at a time until it finds the right one. A quantum computer can explore all possible paths at once, which means it can solve the maze much faster. 

 As a relatively new and rapidly developing field of technology, there are still challenges to overcome before it has practical applications. However, quantum computing possesses the potential to revolutionize the way our digital infrastructures are secured. 

What security risks does quantum computing carry?  

As with any new technology, as well as rewards there are also risks. Because quantum computers can solve certain problems that classical computers can’t, it could potentially break many of the cryptographic systems we use today.  

 Quantum computing poses a potential risk to digital identities due to its ability to break traditional encryption methods that are commonly used to protect sensitive data, including personal and financial information. 

The majority of encryption methods rely on the difficulty of factoring large numbers into their prime factors. However, quantum computers can perform certain calculations much faster than classical computers, including factoring large numbers using Shor’s algorithm. This means that quantum computers could potentially break widely-used encryption algorithms like RSA and Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC), rendering digital identities vulnerable to theft, fraud and exploitation. 

 Additionally, quantum computers could also be used to ease the finding of collisions in  the hash functions that are used to create and authenticate digital signatures, thus allowing to impersonate legitimate digital identities 

 The rapid development of quantum computing represents a challenge to the security of digital identities, and new methods of encryption and authentication may need to be developed to keep pace.  

What is post quantum cryptography, and how can it help?  

Post-quantum cryptography (also known as quantum-resistant cryptography) is a type of cryptography that aims to develop new cryptographic algorithms that are resistant to attacks by quantum computers.  

Post-quantum cryptography aims to develop new cryptographic algorithms that are secure against attacks from both classical and quantum computers. These algorithms typically rely on different mathematical problems that are believed to be hard to solve, even for quantum computers. For example, some post-quantum cryptographic algorithms are based on lattice-based cryptography, code-based cryptography, or multivariate cryptography. 

As quantum computing technology continues to evolve, post-quantum cryptography is becoming increasingly important in securing sensitive data and communications. Governments, financial institutions, and other organizations are actively exploring and investing in post-quantum cryptographic solutions to ensure that their sensitive data and communications remain secure in the face of quantum computing attacks. 

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