It’s said that the sensitive computer data that the U.S. is currently generating will be able to be hacked and decoded by foreign powers in the not-too-distant future.

Hacking is nothing new – that goes on regularly, but decoding is quite another thing.  However, according to the WSJ, that scenario might be able to be forestalled, if we can act quickly enough and be the first to produce the solution: a currently experimental technology called quantum computing.  Quantum computing leverages the quantum properties of atoms to quickly compute problems that no conventional computer can crack.  China is currently hard at work to achieve this end, as are U.S. companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM.  Quantum computing, when fully developed, will be able to revolutionize any number of real-world tasks, from researching new materials to picking best delivery routes.  But, currently, the big worry concerns security.  Thus, the country that achieves true quantum computing first will be able to negate all the encryption that has been done, to date, (ref. WSJ).  This is one of the major reasons that foreign countries are hacking into every system they can access and backing up the data because, they aren’t able to decode currently, but expect to when quantum computing is achieved.  As well, with quantum computing, hackers will be able to intercept and decrypt data as it is produced.  That’s a truly troubling aspect, as it will make all of our current cybersecurity processes obsolete and useless.  Needless to say, researchers are scrambling to come up with quantum computers and new encryption systems as quickly as possible.  But they face some difficulties, such as coming up with standards that researchers can use and then rolling out new measures in time.  Quantum computers are completely different from current computers, so it’s said that the only thing the two have in common is that both systems compute.  Rather than circuits and processors, the quantum system employs complex physics to cram large amounts of information into a single subatomic particle (ref WSJ).  For example, to completely depict a caffeine molecule, mathematically, would require a supercomputer so vast that it would occupy 1/10th of the volume of the earth.  A quantum computer that would provide the same function would be the size of a coffee table. In addition, there’s the issue of security.  Today’s secure systems are encrypted by software that can factor very large numbers, sometimes over 300 digits and is an extremely challenging task for a modern computer.  The task would be relatively simple for a quantum computer.   Today, even if everyone’s bank records could be obtained, they have most certainly been encrypted with systems that can’t be cracked.  However, that would all be rendered useless by the quantum computer’s ability to crack encryption.  Let’s hope that the future arrives very soon for the U.S., in the quantum arena.

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