Quantum Computers Aren’t Magic Either

Let me it shown that “super intelligent” talk does occur on gun forums. And by “super intelligent” I mean buzz word laden talk about theoretical topics that really have no bearing on modern society yet. In the computer science world quantum computers are the big next thing buzz word. They are based on a technology few have any understanding of (quantum theory) and therefore are perfect devices to make insane claims. One of these insane claims is that quantum computers will instantly destroy all modern cryptography methods and instantly make the entire security structure of the universe collapse causing the world to end.

Case in point Secure Socket Layer (SSL) is a security scheme used by most finical institutes to prevent prying eyes from seeing what you’re doing while on your banks web site. More or less it just sends normal Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) data through an encrypted tunnel which should be impossible for an outside person to see. In actuality this isn’t the case and there are functional attacks against SSL but they involve vulnerabilities in the protocol itself not the encryption being used. The perviously mentioned end of the world claims would be direct attacks again the encryption itself.

Well like most over the top fear mongering done about poorly understood theoretical technology, the fear that quantum computers will make modern encryption scheme useless is far from factual. An article I found via Bruce Scheier’s blog does the math for us and shows that quantum computers aren’t anything to fear.

Quantum computers could in fact speed up the time it takes to decrypt modern encryption schemes but there are two major things to note. First of all quantum computers are in their pre-infancy, meaning they are still in the extremely experimental stages. The post I liked to in Scheier’s blog is about how they were able to finally factor the number 15 using a quantum computer. Note the number 15 was chosen because it is a special case and can be represented by a specific form (discussed in the Emergent Chaos article I linked to). Factoring the primes of any number is not currently feasible with quantum computers.

The second thing to note about quantum computers is that they will start out slow and have to build up speed so to speak. The first quantum computers will be extraordinary slow at performing the tasks given to them just like modern semi-conductor computers once were. They will have to be developed over time and make them faster and better suited to perform the tasks put before them.

Currently RSA keys of 4096-bits in length are the largest supported by most software programs. According to the linked Emergent Chaos article if everything advanced as quickly in the quantum computer field as it has in the semi-conductor field 4096-bit RSA keys wouldn’t be broken until 2053. Assuming quantum computers advanced much quick these keys would still be viable for 25 years.

Likewise with current computing technology 4096-bit RSA keys are calculated to be safe until 2060. That means if quantum computers advance as quickly as current computers they would be able to break 4096-bit RSA keys only 7 years ahead of modern computers. This demonstrated that getting our knickers all in a bunch over emerging technologies is once again premature at best. Computers are not magical machines capable of any feat put before them, they are machines based on the reality they have been built in meaning they can only do tasks in the realm of their capabilities. The sooner people realize this the better.