Ever since the whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed the nefarious plots used by the NSA to spy on citizens, people have been pushing for stronger security and encryption of their personal data. In 2014, Apple, a company well-known for its stance on customer privacy, released iOS 8 in response to the growing concerns of government spying. In this operating system, anything saved in storage was encrypted with AES-256, an incredibly secure encryption scheme.
However, further advancements in something called quantum computing could potentially make the strongest traditional encryption obsolete. In traditional computing, data is encoded into bits, either 1s or 0s. However, in quantum computing, data can be stored in qubits, or quantum bits, that allow data to exist in both states at the same time. Without going into too much detail, this would allow futuristic quantum supercomputers to speed through computations at an exponential rate compared to any computer we create today.
This is great if you’re trying to find the complex shape of a molecular protein, but it could become extremely harmful for those trying to protect their privacy. Because of the enormous increase in computing power that these quantum computers would have, public-key encryption that would normally take longer than the age of the universe to crack would only take the same amount of time as grabbing a cup of coffee.
But does this mean we should throw away our private life and accept that we are always being watched? Not quite, because even as computing power becomes stronger, so does the strength of encryption. Already, encryption algorithms based on lattices and multivariate equations have been made are considered post-quantum, meaning that they are thought to be secure against even a quantum machine. Although advancements made in computing power may seem to signify the end of cryptography, the parallel advancements in encryption will continue to keep citizen’s private data safe for years to come.