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The race to save online privacy: what happens when quantum computers can break all our crypto?

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Although many people are well aware of the many threats to their privacy, there is an underlying assumption that the use of strong encryption will always be available to mitigate those problems. Governments will doubtless continue to push for backdoors in encrypted Internet services like WhatsApp. But even if they do get their way by some misfortune, there are open source implementations that will remain beyond the reach of any government. As soon as commercial offerings are compromised, free software versions can step in for those who want such protection.

But suppose one day all crypto were broken? That’s always been a risk – we know that the NSA employs large numbers of top mathematicians, who presumably spend all their time trying to come up with ways to do precisely that. So far, though, there is no evidence that they have succeeded. Indeed, our most reliable source for this area, Edward Snowden, said specifically:

“Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”

That seems to be a pretty clear signal that the NSA had not been able to break the main encryption techniques, at least as far as Snowden knew in 2013, when he made this comment. However, whether or not the NSA or anyone else has made progress on that front since then, it is generally accepted that we are rapidly approaching a point when our current crypto techniques – even the strongest – can be broken through the use of quantum computers. A recent press release from the Eindhoven University of Technology called ‘The dark side’ of quantum computers explains:

“The expectation is that quantum computers will be built some

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