Forget About Quantum Computers Cracking Your Encrypted Data, Many Believe End-to-End Encryption Will Lose Out as a Matter of Policy

Ian Sannes, MJLST Staffer

As reported in Nature, Google recently announced they finally achieved quantum supremacy, which is the point when computers that work based on the spin of qubits, rather than how all conventional computers work, are finally able to solve problems faster than conventional computers. However, using quantum computers is not a threat to encryption any time soon according to John Preskill, who coined the term “quantum supremacy,” rather such theorized uses remain many years out. Furthermore, the question remains whether quantum computers are even a threat to encryption at all. IBM recently showcased one way to encrypt data that is immune to the theoretical cracking ability of future quantum computers. It seems that while one method of encryption is theoretically prone to attack by quantum computers, the industry will simply adopt methods that are not prone to such attacks when it needs to.

Does this mean that end-to-end encryption methods will always protect me?

Not necessarily. Stewart Baker opines there are many threats to encryption such as homeland security policy, foreign privacy laws, and content moderation, which he believes will win out over the right to have encrypted private data.

The highly-publicized efforts of the FBI in 2016 to try to force Apple to unlock encryption on an iPhone for national security reasons ended in the FBI dropping the case when they hired a third party who was able to crack the encryption. This may seem like a win for Silicon Valley’s historically pro-encryption stance but foreign laws, such as the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, are opening the door for government power in obtaining user’s digital data.

In October of 2019 Attorney General Bill Barr requested that Facebook halt its plans to implement end-to-end encryption on its messaging services because it would prevent investigating serious crimes. Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, admitted it would be more difficult to identify and remove harmful content if such an encryption was implemented, but has yet to implement the solution.

Some believe legislators may simply force software developers to create back doors to users’ data. Kalev Leetaru believes content moderation policy concerns will allow governments to bypass encryption completely by forcing device manufacturers or software companies to install client-side content-monitoring software that is capable of flagging suspicious content and sending decrypted versions to law enforcement automatically.

The trend seems to be headed in the direction of some governmental bypass of conventional encryption. However, just like IBM’s quantum-proof encryption was created to solve a weakness in encryption, consumers will likely find another way to encrypt their data if they feel there is a need.