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Chinese Scientists Claim Ability to Break Encryption With Quantum Computing

Encryption can be broken with a new quantum computing method, according to a research paper published by Chinese scientists.
Encryption can be broken with a new quantum computing method, according to a research paper published by Chinese scientists. Credit: Blogtrepreneur / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

In a recently published paper, Chinese scientists have claimed that they are capable of breaking encryption with quantum computing. Security analysts are concerned that, if true, this technological breakthrough could be a threat to both national and personal security.

Encryption is a method of encoding information that is used to protect information and data stored on computer and mobile devices.

Some encryption experts remain skeptical, but, if Chinese scientists have found a way to bypass commonly relied-upon encryption methods, national security analysts are worried that it could pose a risk to the security of military and intelligence organizations, as well as civilians.

How quantum computing could be used to break encryption

In the research paper, the Chinese scientists “propose a universal quantum algorithm
for integer factorization that requires only sublinear quantum resources.”

According to the scientists, their proposed method would enable the breaking of the RSA-2048 scheme with a 372-qubit quantum computer. The RSA-2048 Scheme is a public-key cryptosystem used extensively by militaries, governments, big tech companies, and app developers for data security.

The scientists from China wrote that they used a classical factoring algorithm developed by German mathematician Claus Peter Schnoor as the basis for their methodology.

What all this means, according to encryption experts and security analysts, is that quantum computing methods could be used to break encryption far more easily than was previously thought possible. Moreover, encryption experts believed that a far more powerful computer than the one proposed in the paper would be required to achieve such a feat.

Encryption is used by militaries and intelligence services to protect sensitive data, but it is also used by messenger services like Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger to safeguard private messages between users. For this reason, if the Chinese scientists are correct in their hypothesis, it would have far-reaching consequences for data security.

Diagrams from the research paper.
Diagrams from the research paper. Credit: Bao Yan / Ziqi Tan / Shijie Wei / Haocong Jiang / Research Gate

Are concerns justified?

The research paper was first published on arXiv, an open-access database of academic papers. The database is frequented by academics, but the papers are not peer-reviewed.

“Experts in math and physics have taken a closer look already because of the buzz that the paper was getting,” explained Jenna McLaughlin on NPR. “They say that it’s interesting in terms of incremental scientific progress, but there’s basically no evidence at this point that the method would work at scale.”

The scientists maintain that the “study shows great promise in expediting the application of current noisy quantum computers, and paves the way to factor large integers of realistic cryptographic significance.”

However, analysts have pointed out that the hypothesis requires further testing as a proof of concept. At the moment, it is uncertain whether the theory proposed in the paper can be used in reality to break past encryption.

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