In the future, fighting to keep the internet secure will give rise to computers outsmarting computers.
In fact today, Google is already deep in the work of safeguarding the internet — not anymore from the traditional hacker — but from quantum computers that can crack encryption.
With much of our information now existing online, intelligent machines that can break through cryptosecurity could lead to widescale data breaches and massive data dumps. Not to mention, a domino effect could cause the interweb to collapse. This is called quantum hacking.
"A hypothetical, future quantum computer would be able to retrospectively decrypt any internet communication that was recorded today," writes Matt Braithwaite, a Google software engineer. This is in addition to other data that need to remain "confidential for decades."
Google's New Post-Quantum Cryptography
To stay ahead of the curve — and prepare against quantum hacking — Google is testing on Chrome what it calls "post-quantum cryptography" or a system of cryptographic primitives that are safeguarded against quantum computers.
Asymmetric primitives, on the other hand, are deployed in today's security protocol for HTTPS. This protocol is known as Transport Layer Security (TLS). Powerful quantum computers in the future, however, may be designed with an ability to break this security measure.
Braithwaite's team is hoping to gather real-world experience regarding the types of data structures necessary for developing post-quantum security protocols.
New Hope, the algorithm chosen for the experiment, is used with today's elliptic-curve key-exchange algorithm.
"By adding a post-quantum algorithm on top of the existing one, we are able to experiment without affecting user security," Braithwaite adds.
The test runs on Chrome Canary, the browser catering specifically to developers. Only a small fraction of connections between Google servers and Chrome will use a post-quantum key-exchange algorithm, Google adds.
The experimental algorithm was developed by researchers Erdem Alkim, Léo Ducas, Thomas Pöppelmann and Peter Schwabe.
The test itself, Braithwaite clarifies, has a shelf life of only two years. And while one of the goals of the New Hope developers is to build up a defense against backdoor attacks, Google hasn't yet proposed New Hope as its de facto standard.
Chrome Canary users can tell whether the experiment is running by looking for the "CECPQ1" code in the Security Panel, as seen in the picture below.
The Age Of Quantum Computers
Only a few small, experimental quantum computers exist today, but they are no doubt already making advancements in the field of supercomputing.
Take, for instance, Google's collaboration with NASA on the D-Wave 2X Quantum Computer. The machine is said to spit out answers to optimization problems at a speed 100 million times faster than the average computer chip, Tech Times reported in December last year.
While the D-Wave, for now, deals with a different set of problems, it is precisely this firepower and intelligence that make quantum computers a force to reckon with.