Hackers could steal encrypted data now and crack it with quantum computers later, warn analysts

Beijing-backed hackers might soon start trying to steal encrypted data — such as biometric info, the identities of covert spies, and weapons designs — with a view to decrypting it with a future quantum computer, according to analysts at US tech consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH). 

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“In the 2020s, Chinese economic espionage will likely increasingly steal data that could be used to feed quantum simulations,” the analysts write in the report Chinese Threats in the Quantum Era

At risk are data protected by the current algorithms underpinning public-key cryptography, which some fear may be rendered useless for protecting data once quantum computers become powerful enough.

See also: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report).

The big question is when such a quantum computer might arrive. However, Booz Allen Hamilton’s analysts suggest it doesn’t matter that an encryption-breaking quantum computer could be years off because the type of data being targeted would still be valuable. Hence, there’s still an incentive for hackers to steal high-value encrypted data.  

Recent studies suggest it would take a processor with about 20 million qubits to break the algorithms behind public-key cryptography, which is much larger than the quantum processors that

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