The End Of Public Key Encryption Is On The Horizon

September 24th, 2007

CryptoIt has been known for some time that the advent of quantum computers will completely destroy our existing public key encryption system, which depends on the difficulty of factoring a very large number. The appropriate quantum factoring algorithm already exists—we simply need to develop a functioning quantum computer on which to run it. Two research groups have moved the technology forward by creating very small proof-of-concept quantum computers that perform a modified version of the factoring algorithm. Their quantum computers are not scalable but do demonstrate that some of the core technology is working.

For those interested, the technical writeups are available here and here.

The main lesson from this is that you cannot encrypt data with today’s technology and expect it to be safe for more than a few decades at most (who knows—it could be years instead of decades). Also, I wonder if cryptologists are looking for something other than factoring to replace the one-way algorithm essential to public key encryption.

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