Quantum computing breakthrough renews concerns of cybersecurity apocalypse

A new breakthrough in quantum computing could speed up the already ultra-powerful tech. With it, though, comes the exacerbated potential for a 'crypto-apocalypse' where existing computer security fails.

The term "cryptopocalypse" was probably first coined at the Black Hat USA information security convention in 2013.

A talk presented by four security and technology experts at the show explored cryptographic weaknesses and attempted to answer the hypothetical question: "What happens the day after RSA is broken?"

RSA is a widely used public-key cryptosystem used in digital signatures.

The answer, they determined then, was: "almost total failure of trust in the Internet," for one thing. The reason? Almost everything we do on the Internet is in some way protected by cryptography.

The speakers urged a move to stronger systems to thwart attacks against this backend security that we use for emails, banking, and a lot of other things.

Quantum computing

Fast forward a couple of years and the day that those experts spoke of may be coming sooner than anyone thought.

Recent strides in the area of massively powerful Quantum computing means that cybersecurity Armageddon—where cryptography fails through the ease of inverting keys—may be just around the corner.

And it won't be caused by backdoors or the theft of certificates and keys, as one might have thought, but it will be through the simple fact that computers will be getting ever more powerful. The number crunching behind cryptographic keys could one day become as painless to untangle as some arithmetic is on a calculator today.

'Computational speed-up'

Quantum computing, which has for the most part been only theoretical, has recently seen a development through which it might be able to complete tasks more efficiently.

Physicists from the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences have developed a "new quantum computation scheme" where tasks can be accomplished "more efficiently than a standard quantum computer," the university says on its website.

Gate change

The new technique works by altering the order of quantum gates, which are the "basic building blocks" of a quantum computer, Science Daily explains.

In classic quantum computing theory, it's hard to construct enough of the gates to perform a useful computation, the publication says.

In the usual approach to quantum computing, quantum gates are applied in a specific order, one gate before another.

However, the Austrian researchers reckon they can get the gates to "act in all possible orders at the same time," and therefore be more efficient and conceivably "pave the way for a faster quantum computer," Science Daily says.

Security implications

And it's in this "faster quantum computing" hypothesis that we should be concerned.

Quantum computing already promises to make existing cryptography easily breakable. More efficient quantum computing promises to exacerbate the problem—the race speeds up.


So, worried about quantum computing and its potential for trivializing cryptography, the National Security Agency has said it will initiate a transition to "quantum resistant algorithms in the not-too-distant future," in an updated website bulletin spotted by Dan Goodin of Ars Technica.

The NSA bulletin and Goodin's associated story is unrelated to the Austrians' gate discovery.


No one really knows how long it will take before a quantum computer is built, but many think it is just a matter of time.

And, consequently, old ideas that it would take to the end of time to defeat much cryptography is now looking highly unlikely.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about National Security AgencyNSAQuantumRSA

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Patrick Nelson

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place