Quantum computing is advancing, and while experts are not sure when there will be a quantum computer powerful enough to break the RSA and ECC cryptographic algorithms that are currently in use, many are operating under the assumption that this can happen within a 10- to 15-year timeframe. This is a general timeline because there is no way to know when this will occur – it could happen sooner, or it could happen later.
Luckily, there’s still time to act and plenty you can do to safeguard your organization. Read to learn more about:
- The purpose of post-quantum cryptography (PQC)
- When the first quantum attack might strike
- Resources for understanding quantum resistant cryptography
- Regulations and standards for the post-quantum (PQ) world
- How Entrust solutions can help prepare you for the quantum threat
What is the Purpose of Post-Quantum Cryptography?
Knowing the basics of quantum computing is essential to understanding PQC algorithms and their importance to enterprise cybersecurity.
Whereas a classical computer operates on binary code — meaning zeroes and ones — quantum computers encode data into qubits. A qubit is a superposition of all points in between, allowing it to represent either a zero, one, or a linear combination of the two. In simple terms, applying quantum mechanics to computing allows a quantum computer to perform calculations much faster than a traditional one.
This has the potential to greatly benefit many industries, including healthcare, finance, and more. However, it’s also a major threat to public key infrastructure (PKI). With its ability to calculate at lightning speed, quantum computers will be able to crack today’s standard encryption methods, which are widely used to protect sensitive data and safeguard against theft, fraud, and exploitation.
Otherwise known as quantum resistant cryptography, PQC aims to develop new cryptographic systems that can protect against an eventual quantum attack. In essence, PQC algorithms rely on mathematical equations — such as lattice-based or multivariate cryptography — that are believed to be too difficult for quantum computers to solve.
The question is, when will quantum computers become viable? There’s no definitive answer, but recent developments suggest the pace is quickly accelerating:
- Scientists in China announced their 56-qubit quantum computer took 1.2 hours to complete a task that would otherwise take eight years for the world’s most powerful supercomputer.
- Between 2019 and 2021, IBM quadrupled the number of stable qubits its quantum computer processor could handle.
- McKinsey predicts there will be up to 5,000 operational quantum computers by 2030.
Frequently Asked Quantum Questions
Are you struggling with knowing where to start in your post-quantum preparedness journey? Do you want to learn more about quantum computing, and how it will affect your industry?
View our guide to understanding post-quantum cryptography and encryption and answer your budding questions.
Quantum Threat Timeline
Although the timing of the quantum threat is unknown, it’s top of mind for security-conscious organizations. The Global Risk Institute recently surveyed leaders and experts of quantum science and technology to get their opinions on the likelihood and timing of the quantum threat to public-key cybersecurity. Some patterns emerged from their responses as seen in the illustration below.
Is quantum a threat to public-key cybersecurity?
Although the quantum threat will be realized within the decade, the transition to quantum-safe encryption methods will take several years. Fortunately, there’s still time to get the ball rolling and initiate the process. The Global Risk Institute outlines three parameters for organizations to better understand their level of readiness:
- Shelf-life time: The number of years the data should be protected for
- Migration time: The number of years needed to safely migrate the systems protecting that information
- Threat timeline: The number of years before relevant threat actors can potentially access cryptographically relevant quantum computers
Organizations won’t be able to protect data from quantum attacks if the quantum threat timeline is shorter than the sum of the shelf-life and migration times.
Entrust has taken a leading role in preparing for post-quantum cryptography by collaborating with other organizations to propose new IETF X.509 certificate formats that place traditional encryption methods like RSA and ECC side-by-side with new PQ algorithms.
For example, we’re closely following the work of organizations like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has a project underway to develop algorithms that are resistant to quantum computing and eventually standardize them. We want to help companies sustain their IT ecosystem to reduce replacements, maintain system uptime, and avoid costly changes caused by a lack of preparation.
Entrust has been actively leading the discussions in IETF Forums, where solutions can be considered within the PQ community. Our public propositions are published in the IETF standards forum:
Composite Keys and Signatures for Use in Internet PKI
The widespread adoption of post-quantum cryptography will bring the need for an entity to possess more than one public key for multiple cryptographic algorithms. Since the trustworthiness of individual post-quantum algorithms is in question, a multi-key cryptographic operation will need to be performed so that breaking it requires cracking each component algorithm individually. This requires defining new structures for holding composite public keys and composite signature data.
Multiple Public-Key Algorithm X.509 Certificates
This document describes a method of embedding alternative sets of cryptographic materials into X.509v3 digital certificates, X.509v2 Certificate Revocation Lists (CRLs), and PKCS #10 Certificate Signing Requests (CSRs).
The embedded alternative cryptographic materials allow a public key infrastructure to use multiple cryptographic algorithms in a single object. Moreover, it enables it to transition to the new cryptographic schemes while maintaining backward compatibility with systems using the existing algorithms. Three X.509 extensions and three PKCS #10 attributes are defined, and the signing and verification procedures for the alternative cryptographic material contained in the extensions and attributes are detailed.
Problem Statement for Post-Quantum Multi-Algorithm PKI
The post-quantum community (for example, surrounding the NIST PQC competition) is pushing for "hybridized" crypto that combines RSA/ECC with new primitives to hedge our bets against both quantum adversaries. It’s also advocating for algorithmic/mathematical breaks of the new primitives. After two stalled submissions, Entrust submitted a draft that acts as a semi-formal problem statement and an overview of the three main solution categories.
How Post-Quantum Computing Will Affect Cryptography
Properly designed digital signature schemes used for authentication will remain secure until the day a suitable quantum computer actually comes online. Today’s quantum computers are limited in size and, therefore, pose no threat to present-day cryptography. And several significant engineering obstacles must be overcome before the threat becomes real.
Nevertheless, experts think these obstacles will fade in time. Many predict that a quantum computer capable of breaking today’s standard public-key algorithms will be available within the planned life of systems currently in development.
Today’s public-key algorithms are deployed for authentication, digital signature, data encryption, and key establishment purposes. Once quantum computers of sufficient size become a reality, we’ll need to replace cryptographic schemes for each of these functions.
Data encryption and key-agreement algorithms are susceptible to a recorded-cipher-text attack, in which an adversary today records exchanges protected by pre-quantum algorithms and stores the cipher text for analysis in the future. This is what’s known as a “harvest now, decrypt later” strategy. Once a viable quantum computer is created, hackers will be able to recover the plaintext. Depending on the required algorithm security lifetime, pre-quantum cryptography will become vulnerable sooner for these key purposes.
Once a suitable quantum computer exists, a signer could repudiate signatures created earlier, claiming that they were forged using a private key broken later by a quantum computer.
Post-Quantum and Classical Hybrid Cryptography
There are different approaches on how to prepare for secure cryptographical communications in a post-quantum age. Using a hybrid approach is one of the more popular methods being proposed as a way of transitioning to the as yet undefined PQ algorithms.
The hybrid approach suggests that rather than trust one algorithm, it places traditional algorithms like RSA and ECC alongside new PQ algorithms. This is helpful for current use cases while pre-quantum is an acceptable method for authentication and to test IT ecosystems against PQ algorithms.
Regulations and Standards for Post-Quantum
Keep up with the latest developments in post-quantum standards, strategies, laws, and best practices.
Webinar Series: What is the State of the Quantum World?
Anyone who manages cybersecurity and wants to learn more about quantum computing will benefit from our webinar series. Watch the webinar recordings now.
Entrust Post-Quantum Solutions
Prepare your cryptographic assets for post-quantum by taking inventory, prioritizing your highest value assets, testing your quantum preparedness, and planning ahead to meet post-quantum cryptography standards. Entrust has a leading role in helping you improve your crypto-agility and creating solutions to support your migration into a post-quantum world.