Google hopes to thwart quantum computers from cracking internet encryption

Google is testing new cryptography that could future-proof internet communications

google quantum qubit

A superconducting quantum chip with nine qubits.

Credit: Julian Kelly/Google

The encryption methods used to secure internet communications won’t be impenetrable forever. More powerful “quantum computers” on the horizon could very well crack them.

That’s why Google is testing new cryptography that computers in the future might not be able to break.  

The processing power offered by "hypothetical, future" quantum computers could  be enough to “decrypt any internet communication that was recorded today,” wrote Matt Braithwaite, a Google software engineer in a company blog post on Thursday.

This could affect the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol used when visiting websites. Old information, originally meant to be secured for decades, could suddenly become exposed, he added.

The quantum computers available today, however, are small and experimental, but the tech industry has been moving closer to making them a mainstream reality.

They represent a leap over current computers, which rely on data represented as 0s and 1s. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits that can simultaneously be both 0 and 1, which can help them run far more efficiently.

Regardless of when quantum computers arrive, Google still wants to prepare for the security risks posed by them.

To future-proof today’s internet communications, the search giant will deploy what it’s calling “post-quantum cryptography” and will test it using its browser Chrome Canary.

The experiment will only cover a small fraction of the connections between the browser and Google’s servers, and will be used on top of its current encryption algorithm.

In its test, Google is using a cryptography algorithm called “New Hope." However, the test will last two years, and Google hopes it can replace the algorithm with something better.

“The post-quantum algorithm might turn out to be breakable even with today's computer,” Braithwaite wrote. “Alternatively, if the post-quantum algorithm turns out to be secure then it'll protect the connection even against a future, quantum computer."

Users of Chrome Canary can tell if the post-quantum algorithm is in use by checking the browser's security panel and looking for "CECPQ1" in the key exchange.

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