Domen Zavrl takes a special interest in cryptography and has attended courses on the subject at Stanford University. This article will look at cryptography and the increasing threat of cybercriminals leveraging the immense power of quantum computers as a means of infiltrating networks and stealing information. In addition, the attached PDF contains an outline of other cybersecurity threats tipped to feature prominently in 2023.

A report published by Booz Allen Hamilton in 2021 predicted that China would surpass both the United States and Europe in the field of quantum-related research and development, with Chinese hackers poised to target heavily encrypted datasets (such as information gathered by undercover intelligence officers or weapon designs), storing this information to unlock at a later date once quantum computing has advanced enough to facilitate decryption. The attached infographic contains some interesting facts about quantum computing.

Booz Allen Hamilton’s report, titled Chinese Threats in the Quantum Era, indicated that encrypted data with intelligence longevity – such as covert intelligence source and officer identities, biometric markers, weapons designs and social security numbers – could increasingly become targets of theft by cybercriminals under the expectation that they could eventually be decrypted in the future. The report suggested that state-aligned cyberthreat actors could intercept or steal encrypted data that was previously unusable.

A report published by the Financial Times also suggests that Chinese researchers may have found a way to crack RSA encryption. Although these claims have yet to be proven, if the report is correct, this breakthrough has come years ahead of expectations. The report highlights the vast amount of research currently being undertaken globally on quantum computing and RSA encryption.

Quantum cryptography is a method of encryption that relies on quantum mechanics to secure and transmit information in a way that cannot be hacked. Cryptography encrypts and protects data, meaning that only the keyholder can decrypt it. Quantum cryptography differs from traditional cryptographic systems, relying on physics rather than mathematics as a key aspect of its security model.

Using individual particles of light called photons to transmit data via fibreoptic wires, the theory for quantum cryptography follows a model that was established in 1984. Although the cryptography method has yet to be fully developed, it has been implemented successfully several times, including during testing undertaken by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Quantum Network between 2002 and 2007, which culminated in the development of a 10-node QKD network through a collaboration between Harvard University, Boston University and IBM Research.

In January 2023, the IBM Institute for Business Value published its Security in the Quantum Era report, examining the reality of quantum risk and identifying the need for adoption of quantum-safe capabilities to protect the integrity of critical infrastructure and applications as the risk of decryption increases.

Tim Callan is a chief experience officer at the cybersecurity company Sectigo. He suggests that quantum computers could one day render the encryption we use today no longer fit for purpose, with the evolution of quantum computers creating a significant threat to data security.

The immense processing power of quantum computers could potentially give cybercriminals the ability to not only break encryption but do so at speed, leaving critical information vulnerable to interception by bad players, with everything from medical data to bank account details to state secrets prone to falling into the wrong hands.

Specialists refer to this scenario as the ‘Quantum Apocalypse’, with experts warning that it may be only a matter of years away. Coined ‘Q-Day’ by quantum researchers, the event could see large-scale quantum computers deploying Shor’s algorithm to break public key systems that use integer factorisation-based cryptography and other advanced cryptography. The attached video takes a closer look at Shor’s algorithm and its capabilities.