Y2K Moment – the Quantum Version

In a recent article in Physics World, industry editor Margaret Harris discusses the threat of quantum computers to the numerous encryption systems that make e-commerce possible today. Many agree a universal quantum computer will emerge sometime in the next 20 years. However, industry experts suggest a failure of widely used encryption methods could create a “quantum Y2K moment” that may leave experts scrambling to catch up.

For decades, scientists and engineers have worked to transform the giant machines of the yesteryear into devices that fit neatly on a desk or in the palm of your hand. Thanks to investments and efforts of thousands of scientists worldwide, the large-scale quantum computer may be a reality sooner rather than later, replacing current methods of mathematical encryption.

The potential for disruption is certainly comparable to a Y2K situation. Organizations like telecommunications firms and healthcare providers, as well as power plants, shipping facilities and other critical infrastructure systems would suffer if public-key cryptography suddenly became insecure. Unlike the Y2K moment, quantum computing is not tied to a specific date but a much blurrier timeline spread out over a number of years.

While some experts suggest there is only a 50 percent chance of quantum encryption by 2031, others in the field are not as skeptical. Like John Prisco, chief executive of Quantum Xchange, predicts as little as three years. Prisco, a victim of identity theft in 2015 as part of the US government’s Office of Personnel Management breach, believes well-funded hackers are harvesting data all the time. In response, Quantum Xchange plans to use Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) to connect major financial institutions in Manhattan to their back-office functions in New Jersey in the first US-based quantum network.

Every company should ask the question, “How paranoid are we about our data?” Organizations that need to secure data 10 years or longer may want to accommodate a switch to a post-quantum cryptographic method or a full-fledged QKD. 

Read the full article here: The quantum Y2K moment