US to future-proof encryption against quantum computers

The White House has announced a plan to upgrade current IT encryption standards in order to secure them against powerful quantum computers of the future.

The White House announced on Wednesday a plan to upgrade current IT encryption standards used by both the US national security community and the commercial sector in order to secure them against powerful quantum computers of the future.

Quantum computing is a fast-emerging technology that combines advances in scientific understanding of the subatomic world with leaps in information theory to solve mathematical problems that are impossible for today's conventional computers.

Though the field is in its infancy, "even a quantum computer a decade from now could potentially be used to decrypt data that's encrypted today," a senior administration official said ahead of the announcement.

US President Joe Biden's administration signed two directives on Wednesday.

One, a national security memorandum, will initiate a collaboration between the federal government and the private sector to adopt "quantum-resilient cryptographic standards," which are currently being developed by the National Institute of Standards (NIST).

These algorithms will be vital to ensure the future of secure communications on the internet, officials explained.

The memorandum would also set requirements for federal agencies to upgrade their systems, and direct agencies to safeguard American technology against acquisition by its adversaries.

It also promotes collaboration between government, industry and academia to ensure the United States remains a global leader in quantum information science.

A separate executive order places the National Quantum Initiative, the government's principal independent expert advisory body, directly under the White House.

Quantum computing was first proposed in the 1980s, with key figures including the American theoretical physicist Richard Feynman.

Today, several companies are leading the charge in developing the technology, including IBM, whose quantum computers look like futuristic golden chandeliers.

While traditional computers process information in bits that can be represented by 0 or 1, quantum computers use qubits, which can be a combination of both at the same time, allowing them to solve more complex problems.

Researchers hope to harness advances in quantum technology to drive innovation: from designing new molecules for drug development to the instant teleportation of information from one location to another using a phenomenon called "entanglement."

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