A Threat to the Internet


The nature of quantum computing is, to most, frightful and uninviting. Coupled with our everyday computers being complex machines, even at the fundamental level of ones and zeros, the quantum bits (or qubits) convey much less appeal. However, in an alien-like industry set to reach a value of $6.5 billion by 2028, there is some attractive magic to deconstruct.

These integral qubits, which can take basic states of ones and zeros (much like our conventional adding machines) and states of transformation between one and zero, are the essence of quantic algorithms. It is these algorithms that act as a mathematical basis for the disrupting forces of their physical realizations. One of them, Shor’s algorithm, takes quantic processing to a level that, if implemented in real life, will leave no user of the internet safe.

What is quantum computing?

Quantum computing was introduced by Paul Benioff in 1980 through the implementation of a quantum Turing machine, analogous to conventional computers but employing these quantic background processes. The industry has since evolved, showcasing remarkable feats such as molecule simulation in chemistry (ultimately impacting pharmaceuticals), traffic optimisation, and improved investment banking portfolio and derivative pricing. What’s more, quantum algorithms have achieved the teleportation of a photon into space! The mathematical process behind this stunt is simpler at first glance and was even taught at IE’s recent extra course in Quantum Computing with Prof. Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón. Still, none of these algorithms rivals the pure disruptive potential of Shor’s algorithm.

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Prof. Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón teaching at IE Segovia

Shor’s algorithm and Q-day

Peter Shor, moved by an insatiable thirst for greatness, started early a relentless quest to leave a mark on the world of computing. From a young age, he already showed a prodigious intellect and a strong determination to push the boundaries of what was once thought possible. Shor was captivated by the mysterious field of quantum physics because of its innate secrets and boundless possibilities. This passion drove him to pursue a career in quantum computing, an area where traditional wisdom was deemed obsolete and seemingly endless possibilities existed.

Shor eventually accomplished his greatest work of all time through years of restless testing and theoretical research: the creation of an algorithm that could break even the most complex encryption schemes ever created, the Internet. Through relentless effort and ingenuity, Shor succeeded in crafting an algorithm that threatens the very fabric of contemporary cryptographic systems.

Nevertheless, It’s still unclear what information privacy will mean among internet users when Shor’s Algorithm is implemented in realistic terms. Online data is currently private to individual users through encryption, an algorithmic transformation of words and numbers by an encryption key that is special to the singular user. Decrypting data is the process of testing out millions of combinations that might eventually lead to uncovering the encryption key. This process can take anywhere from days to years and depends on the computer’s processing power, among other variables.

The advent of quantum computing shortens this process to scary ease, especially considering Shor’s algorithm. When the day comes, Shor will disrupt worldwide internet networks by easily decrypting the RSA, the oldest encryption key system that is still used for current secure data transmission online. This is known as the Q-day.

As debilitating as the Q-day sounds, such a scenario is not so straightforward. Naturally, as quantum computing expands, so will cybersecurity measures of safety. With development comes control and regulation, as we have seen with the novelty of AI. And although needed, organizations will have to make sure there is no oligopoly of excess quantum power. The introduction of Shor’s algorithm impacted mainly American institutions that are smartly investing in such development to later have full controlling power. Once again, the industry is already dominated by the US, the market leader with a significant 42.97% share.

Imagine instead of singular control, organizations promoted international cooperation in quantum computing knowledge and application, with independent regulatory bodies, and engineering maintenance not specific to a single country or company. Not only will progress stagger, but also safety can easily ensue. The problem is always greed and the fear of being behind.

IBM’s Quantum Computer in New York City

Final thoughts

There still is hope for international cooperation and regulation within the quantum computing sector, even though the introduction of Shor’s algorithm and the approaching Q-day present serious concerns about cybersecurity and information privacy. Shor’s algorithm is so disruptive that we must work together to provide strong protections against its possible abuse. Through the dissemination of information, impartial regulatory monitoring, and fair distribution of quantum computing resources, we can reduce the dangers associated with centralized authority and create an environment in which advancement and security can flourish together.

When driven by principles of cooperation rather than dominance, the algorithm has the potential to uncover new frontiers in scientific discovery, medical research, and technology innovation, going beyond decryption and data security. Ultimately, the true potential of quantum computing lies not in its capacity for disruption, but in its ability to unite humanity in the pursuit of a brighter, more interconnected future.

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