University of New South Wales has researched and brought in the advent of quantum computers closer than ever, with potentially momentous consequences for the future of internet security. The researchers from Australia claim that they have reached an operational accuracy of 99% using two new types of quantum bits, or “qubits”.

The qubits allow quantum computers to carry out calculations much more faster than traditional digital computers. The researchers also claim to have solved the accuracy issue, which had plagued quantum computing up to this point. There will be progress in fields such as discovering how proteins fold, but other aspects of the technology are potentially damaging if we are not prepared for their effects.

Quantum computers carry out calculations billions of times faster than traditional computers. It means that in theory they would be capable of breaking public key encryption, which uses prime numbers so large that traditional computers would take billions of years to work out their factors.

Public key encryption forms the very basis of internet security as we know it, according to former NSA technical director Brian Snow. He claims that, “within ten to twenty years from now, you could have a quantum computer at scale, large enough and healthy enough, to attack the trust mechanisms of the web.” Quantum computers do not hold the same advantage in attacking an older form of cryptography which utilizes symmetric keys mediated by an intermediary. Snow is an adviser at one such firm, PQ Solutions.

Any adoption of a different form of encryption would be incredibly hard to enforce. The lack of one “CEO” of the Internet is one of its advantages, but in this case it could become a curse. It would be almost impossible to decide who should hold the keys. The potential arrival of quantum computers is a considered to be a huge challenge to the web, and could initiate the breakup of the world wide web into regional or national networks with their own encryption systems.

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