Privacy in a Quantum World

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The future of computing is quantum based. Companies, universities, and the government all are racing to develop quantum computers and applications and bring them to market. Quantum computers use qubits, instead of the familiar bits of classical computers. Qubits can exist simultaneously as both a ‘1’ and a ‘0’, while classical bits can only be either a ‘1’ or ‘0’ at any given time. This attribute, called superposition, is what makes quantum systems so intriguing.

The promise of quantum computing is clear – computers with processors many times faster than the best models on the market today, allowing for advanced computations and simulations beyond even the reach of today’s supercomputers.  With all that computing power, however, comes a price.

A quantum computer could break some of the most common encryption schemes in use today. While we are a long way off from a functional quantum computer, the security and privacy implications have many people concerned. If quantum computers become widely available before encryption algorithms are updated to be more secure, any data encrypted with current algorithms could be vulnerable to prying eyes. Amnesty International currently ranks encryption as a basic human right, and given how much modern life depends on encryption, this is a worrying scenario. The National Security Agency even has an FAQ for those concerned about quantum computing’s potential threat to encryption.

On the other hand, widespread adoption of quantum computers could mean the development of computer systems that are physically resistant to eavesdropping, thanks to the complicated physics of quantum entanglement. Theoretically, quantum computers could provide us with ultimate privacy. Enterprising privacy engineers might want to use IBM’s newly released quantum API to develop algorithms and applications for the quantum era.

The world will certainly be waiting with bated breath for when the first ‘universal’ quantum computer reaches the market. Will 2017 be the year of quantum?