The NSA is concerned that current methods of cryptography, used to encrypt data and ensure that if it does fall into the wrong hands, it’s not readable or usable, are going to be woefully inadequate and easily broken when quantum computers come into play.
Of course, this isn’t going to be something that happens in the near future, as quantum computers – which instead of bits, use qubits that can hold three states instead of the usual binary 0 or 1 – are still merely conceptual in nature, and won’t be fully realised for many decades yet.
That said, as the IB Times, which spotted the NSA’s release on the matter, points out, such vastly powerful computers could come about in the next 50 years, and so preparing for that eventuality is certainly important.
Whereas previously the NSA has been urging companies to employ Suite B cryptographic algorithms – such as 256-bit AES encryption – the agency now states that it will be moving to quantum-resistant algorithms in the “not too distant future”.
These will provide what the NSA describes as cost-effective security against a quantum computer engaged in cracking efforts.
The agency noted that: “We are working with partners across the USG, vendors, and standards bodies to ensure there is a clear plan for getting a new suite of algorithms that are developed in an open and transparent manner that will form the foundation of our next Suite of cryptographic algorithms.”
Those organisations who have not yet made the transition to Suite B algorithms are being advised to avoid making any sort of “significant expenditure” to do so right now, but rather, they should plough resources into preparing for the deployment of quantum-resistant algorithms.
But the NSA added: “It is important to note that we aren’t asking vendors to stop implementing the Suite B algorithms and we aren’t asking our national security customers to stop using these algorithms. Rather, we want to give more flexibility to vendors and our customers in the present as we prepare for a quantum safe future.”
The National Security Agency is, of course, fully partaking in the race to build its own quantum computer, when it comes to cracking open encrypted data that belongs to others.