Can a new standard prevent an encryption meltdown?

Connect with state & local government leaders
 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Even with government and industry working on quantum-resistant encryption, getting any solutions rolled out will take time and a massive effort.

“Almost everyone is prepared for the worst,” ABC News correspondent Steve Osunsami reported in 1999, as computer scientists worked to resolve the Y2K problem before computer systems malfunctioned when two-digit date fields rolled over for the year 2000.

Today, "the worst" looks like the cracking of the encryption scheme that protects banking, communications and national security applications.

RSA public-key encryption relies on the mathematical task of dividing large numbers into their prime factors, a job too difficult for today's computers to solve quickly enough to be practical, according to Douglas Stebila, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo working on cryptography. “But quantum computers would be able to do it efficiently,” he said.

The issue becomes more urgent when considering that quantum computers, once they’re a reality, will be able to break RSA-encrypted messages that are intercepted today, stored until decryption capabilities exist and then broken, Stebila explained.

“A quantum computer could retroactively break confidentiality, so information that I encrypt today using vulnerable public key encryption like RSA, an adversary who records that and gets a quantum computer 20 years in the future could go back and retroactively decrypt that information,” he said.

That means we should be concerned about protecting “information that has a long lifespan -- like health records, military secrets -- that need to be kept confidential for 20, 50, 100 years  … against quantum computers even though they don’t exist,” he said.

Fortunately, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is already working on a post-quantum cryptography standard and is on track to have a new quantum-resistant standard by 2022 or 2024.

“We know it is going to take time to finalize the crypto in a standard, have industry start to implement it in products and then get the infrastructure refreshed with the new encryption,” NIST Computer Security Division Chief Matthew Scholl said at an Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board (ISPAB) meeting said earlier this month. “So with all of that work ahead of us, it’s important that we do this now.”

“We will either have the ability to have a natural migration through product evolution, or we might have to do a Y2K-type effort,” he said, referring to level of effort involved, Scholl later told GCN.

In 2016, the agency put out a call for post-quantum cryptographic algorithms. NIST received 69 initial submissions from 16 countries. Many of the submissions weren't necessarily new ideas, but were based on research that had been around for years without being widely adopted.

“There was nothing really particularly different than what we already knew five years ago,” said Vadim Lyubashevsky, the lead scientist for IBM Research Zurich, who was involved with three submissions. “I mean, there [were] a few improvements here and there, but really many of the schemes are based on exactly the same ideas we [had] five to 10 years ago.”

Stebila worked on two submissions and said they were based on research that began in 2014 before NIST made its announcement.

This is why Lyubashevsky and Chris Sciacca, a spokesperson for IBM Research Zurich, said quantum-safe encryption doesn't depend on a NIST standard. “Clients don’t need to wait … however many years it takes to develop these standards,” Sciacca said. “They can already begin preparing today.”

At the very least, companies and organizations need to begin to audit their systems to determine where they might be vulnerable to quantum attacks, Stebila said.

The White House has acknowledged the importance of quantum research. The National Cyber Strategy, released in September this year, highlighted the efforts being made by NIST and said the federal government plans to make a switch to post-quantum encryption.

“The United States must be at the forefront of protecting communications by supporting rapid adoption of these forthcoming NIST standards across government infrastructure and by encouraging the Nation to do the same,” it stated.

“Folks are incredibly eager" to transition to post-quantum, Scholl told the ISPAB board.

NIST plans to announce which algorithms made it into the second phase of the standard-development effort by late 2018 or early 2019. The next phase will focus more on the performance, size and agility of the algorithms. The final outcome will be a “suite of options,” less than 10, but more than two algorithms that can hold fast against quantum, Scholl said.

The big gray area in the entire conversation is that no one knows when quantum computers will become a reality. Technically, there are quantum computers today, but they are nowhere near powerful enough to crack current encryption. And when they will be strong enough is still just a best guess.

“We knew when Y2K was coming, so that was an easy item,” Scholl said. “We’re currently just projecting when we think a quantum-relevant computer is going to come.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.