Unhackable. That’s how experts put quantum cryptography when they introduced the concept to the world. And in an era where security threats and data breaches have become mainstream, that’s definitely a welcome treat. The question is: Are the proponents of quantum cryptography right? Can the principles of quantum mechanics secure messages efficiently and protect them from anyone other than their intended recipients. Can quantum cryptography employ quantum computing’s “no change theory” for the ultimate data protection?
How does Quantum Cryptography Work?
Traditional encryption methods, such as using a digital certificate, rely on the use of public and private keys. Quantum cryptography, meanwhile, uses quantum computing techniques such as the Kak protocol. This protocol is highly similar to a double-lock algorithm that permits two users to exchange data without the need to share keys securely.
Let us take a look at an example. Say Carlo and Mark need to exchange confidential data online. They need to successfully send the information without an eavesdropper (we’ll call him Joe) disrupting the transaction or, worse, modifying it. To carry this out, Carlo and Mark need to exchange locks via a three-step process.
- Carlo locks the data by encrypting it using a secret key and sends it to Mark.
- Mark then adds his lock (re-encrypting Carlo’s data with his own secret key) and sends the information back.
- Carlo removes his lock and sends the result back to Mark. Mark can then delete his lock and read the original data.
For the process to work or Joe not to decipher the encrypted data, Carlo and Mark need to multiply the encryption process by a large number.
What is Quantum Hacking?
While quantum cryptography seems promising, it may be providing a false sense of security for those who believe it is a super-secure system. Enter quantum hacking.
Quantum hacking is the concept of using quantum computers to carry out malicious deeds. Even before quantum cryptography became mainstream, many hackers have already been working on harnessing the power of quantum computing to look for security loopholes.
How does Quantum Hacking Work?
Quantum hacking works by breaking modern cryptographic strategies, which often use private and public keys to encrypt data via a mathematical equation that can be challenging to crack using brute force.
With quantum hacking, quantum computing would be able to circumvent this protocol. Why? Because the process still involves the use of related and connected mathematical algorithms, which, by theory, can be broken by advanced quantum computers. While it would take a while, the process is still possible using the nonlinear protocol of quantum computing.
When quantum hacking becomes possible, a system that overhauls the current Internet security practices needs to be developed. If not, it would be easy for hackers to compromise data and cause costly issues.
Is Quantum Hacking Possible?
Back in 2007, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) successfully hacked a quantum-encrypted network. They eavesdropped via a quantum mechanical wiretap and deciphered as much as 50% of the data transmitted without the knowledge of the parties communicating with each other.
And so, while the researchers did not apply the quantum hacking experiment on a real-world network, they showed that quantum cryptography also had flaws and can still be exploited.
Experts say that quantum hacking is only avoidable if quantum cryptography encryption keys are so complicated that even the most sophisticated quantum computers cannot crack them. The only downside to this is that repeated encryption would result in very lengthy keys that would eventually slow the process down.
How can One Protect against Quantum Hacking?
For now, both quantum hacking and quantum cryptography are still concepts under development. There is nothing much that one can do to prevent quantum hacking. But security professionals should do their best to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field because hackers surely are. As much as possible, the good guys should stay two steps ahead of the bad ones.
One thing that cybersecurity specialists need to work on is post-quantum encryption. They need to assume that even quantum cryptography can be cracked and start acting as if the quantum threat is already present.
Who would Win the Battle?
It all boils down to who would make the best use of quantum computing. If quantum cryptography can successfully use it to bear fruit, all Internet users who would benefit from another level of security protection would win.
If quantum hacking can crack quantum cryptography, then everyone who relies on it would lose because they trusted something that only offered a false sense of security.
For now, quantum computing is still a theory, a mere concept. While many threat actors are trying to develop both quantum cryptography and quantum hacking, the ideas still need time to turn into reality. That said, resources can better be directed at combating current threats that are putting all industries at risk. Fighting a still nonexisting threat at this point is futile.
In sum, while quantum cryptography can indeed improve security at impressive levels, programmers and developers still need to find a way to prevent fellow quantum computing experts with adequate resources to perform quantum hacking without slowing down the data exchange process. And since we have yet to reap the full benefits of quantum computing, quantum cryptography and quantum hacking will need to wait for a long while.