When you hear about quantum physics, you’re probably more likely to envision a science lab or a Hollywood movie than your home or office environment. But the reality is that quantum computing is actually much closer to science fact than science fiction (see prototype chip above), with large-scale machines potentially becoming available within the next decade. The power of quantum creates many new opportunities and risks, with security being one of the key focus areas. As a recent national news headline bluntly put it: “quantum computing will cripple encryption methods”.
Today we’re excited to announce a new partnership with some of the world’s leading experts in quantum security, looking at ways to solve what some are calling Y2Q: “years to quantum”. We’ve already started integrating new quantum-resistant algorithms into BlackBerry products, providing security well beyond even the certified military-grade encryption that we use today. In order to understand why this is so critical, let’s take a step back and examine what quantum computing is and how it works.
The Limits of Modern Computers
Servers, PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones store, transfer and calculate information using binary digits known as bits, commonly represented by 1s and 0s. By chaining together thousands, millions or even billions of these simple bits, we can store and transmit complex information ranging from the apps on our phones to HD videos to this very blog post that you’re reading right now.
For the past 50 years, the power and storage space available on computers has followed Moore’s Law, approximately doubling every two years. But in 2005, Gordon Moore pointed out that this rate of progress can’t continue forever, observing that “in terms of size (of transistors) you can see that we’re approaching the size of atoms which is a fundamental barrier… we have another 10 to 20 years before we reach a fundamental limit.” In 2015, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich stated that “our cadence today is closer to two and a half years than two”, another sign that the days of Moore’s Law are coming to an end.
The Quantum Revolution
The next major computing revolution is expected to come from the world of quantum physics. Quantum computers maintain sequences of qubits, quantum “bits” which have special properties such as superposition and entanglement. While a classical bit can only be 1 or 0, a qubit can exist in a superposition of 1 and 0 at the same time, essentially doubling the amount of information that it can store and process. This effect is exponential for each additional bit, so while a 32-bit classical computer can exist in one of 232 possible states at any given time, a 32-bit quantum computer could exist in all 232 states at once, making it over 4 billion times more powerful.
With the support of industry giants like Google and Microsoft, quantum computers are already being deployed and experts believe that “a working quantum computer, capable of outperforming traditional computers by orders of magnitude, could be a reality within the next 10 years.” These ultra-powerful machines will let us store, share and stream previously unimaginable amounts of information and solve groundbreaking problems in medicine, logistics, mathematics, astrophysics, materials science and many other fields where computing power is still a major limitation.
So What’s the Catch?
Modern cryptography is built around the fact that computers cannot easily solve certain types of mathematical problems; this forms the basis of encryption algorithms that protect the security and privacy of our most sensitive electronic data, from bank accounts to enterprise emails to Top Secret government documents that are critical to national security. When you connect to Google.com, your connection is protected using a 256-bit key which would take 2256 attempts to fully guess; for comparison, there are about 2270 atoms in the entire known universe.
While brute-forcing this type of encryption is practically impossible today, the exponential increase in power from quantum computers could make it feasible and eventually even trivial to break the majority of our current encryption keys. Quantum computing is a high-stakes arms race between some of the world’s most powerful entities where the grand prize may include the ability to decrypt nearly any information that can be remotely accessed. The Quantum Age is fast approaching and top security experts are already taking notice.
Fighting Quantum with Quantum
Luckily, some of most groundbreaking research in quantum physics is taking place in BlackBerry’s hometown of Waterloo, Canada. From the Perimeter Instituteto the Quantum-Nano Centre to the Institute for Quantum Computing, the area known as Quantum Valley is attracting top scientific minds from around the world in an effort to make large-scale quantum computing a safe and secure reality.
BlackBerry is proud to announce a new partnership with ISARA Corporation, the world’s leading provider of cutting-edge quantum-resistant cryptography. Using advanced algorithms such as McEliece variants for public key cryptography, Leighton-Micali Signature for digital signing and the new Lattice-based Unique Key Exchange (LUKE), ISARA is able to protect encryption and signing keys against attacks from quantum computers. BlackBerry is actively working with ISARA to integrate quantum-resistant cryptography into our products, ensuring that BlackBerry customers are protected well before large-scale quantum computers become a reality.
You can meet ISARA at RSA 2017 this week in the Ontario government pavilion, located in the South Expo #S2824. And come to meet BlackBerry, including our Cybersecurity Services team, at Booth #S2045, also in the South Hall.
Quantum is the future of computing, and just as BlackBerry leads today’s world in mobile security, we’re preparing to lead the world of tomorrow in quantum security.