Cryptographers Develop Encryption Method Resistant to Future Quantum Attacks

Cryptographers are working on new encryption methods able to protect today’s Internet communications from future quantum computers that can be able to break today’s cryptography techniques. The researchers have developed upgrades to the Internet’s core encryption protocol that will prevent quantum computer users from intercepting Internet communications.

A research paper authored by Douglas Stebila from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Joppe Bos from NXP Semiconductors, and Craig Costello and Michael Naehrig from Microsoft Research, presented at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, describes cryptographic primitives that could offer resilience against attacks by quantum computers. The paper, titled “Post-quantum key exchange for the TLS protocol from the ring learning with errors problem,” is freely available online.

Early Days of Post-Quantum Cryptography

Code breakingQuantum computers can process information in ways that have no equivalent in classical computing by exploiting subtle quantum phenomena. Quantum computers may theoretically be able to solve certain problems – including code breaking – much faster than classical computer and perform computations that would be otherwise impossible. This explains the enthusiasm of researchers, venture capitalists, and the intelligence community for the first quantum computing demonstrations.

Now important players in both government and industry want to move quantum computing beyond the research stage and build operational, fault tolerant, scalable quantum computers. Therefore, it seems likely that quantum computers, able to break today’s best Internet encryption, will be developed.

“Quantum computers will be able to solve complex scientific problems, like simulating chemical reactions, much faster than today’s most powerful supercomputers, but they’ll also be able to break much of the public key cryptography that’s used to protect Internet, mobile telephone, and other electronic communication,” said Stebila. “Though quantum computers don’t exist yet, they could be used to retroactively decrypt past transmissions. That’s why it’s important that we start updating our communication infrastructure.”

We’ve tested some new techniques and found some very promising first steps towards future-proofing Internet encryption.

The cryptographers developed developed a new version of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) standard that incorporates a recently developed mathematical technique called “ring learning with errors problem,” which could resist quantum attacks.

“Our cryptographically secure implementation, aimed at the 128-bit security level, reveals that the performance price when switching from non-quantum-safe key exchange is not too high,” say the researchers. “The resulting provably secure construction provides post-quantum forward secrecy yet remains practical, both in terms of efficiency and in terms of its integration with the widely-deployed RSA-based public key authentication infrastructure.”

Post-quantum cryptography is still in its early days. Future work will include optimization of parameter sizes, implementations, and comparisons between post-quantum primitives, conclude the researchers.

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Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.