The Future Of Espionage Could Change The Past
Espionage has always been used to influence current and future events. From Alexander the Great employing spies over two thousand years ago to the proliferation of state- and criminal-sponsored Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups wreaking havoc on corporations and governments today, collecting information and operationalizing it for advancement, profit, or to damage one’s enemies has always worked in the normal, linear-time fashion. Actions taken now affect the future—but quantum computers are changing that.
You may have heard: quantum computers will change everything. While that may be hyperbolic, it’s fair to say that nobody can yet fully understand to what extent their influence will have. The cryptography community has been aware of the threat to modern encryption since Peter Shor invented his quantum algorithm in 1994. The security community has been increasingly aware of the “capture now, decrypt later” scenario for the last several years; yet despite this, some corporate and government leaders have chosen to ignore the warnings. Perhaps they’ve heard that a useful quantum computer, like human-generated fusion energy, is the perpetually five-years-away technology. More likely, they believe information that’s sensitive now will be irrelevant if decrypted in five years.
In the Before Quantum (BQ) times, that may have been true; however, passing the Y2Q threshold means entering a time that will force those leaders to open their eyes and see a new encryption landscape. All that sensitive information encrypted with today’s vulnerable algorithms—including bank and cryptocurrency transactions, health records, legal documents, and government intelligence information—captured over the last several years will be more than just embarrassing if decrypted and revealed to the world. Current APT and future state-sponsored Quantum Persistent Threat (QPT) groups could employ “capture now, operationalize later” by decrypting and rewriting the information itself.
One thing is certain: if we can’t grasp the extent to which quantum computers will influence our future lives, trying to imagine their use in rewriting our past lives is more the specialty of science fiction or dystopian writers. However, the following is an attempt to show how science fiction could become a non-fiction reality.
An electronic deed and digital signature, as valid as any legal document signed with a pen, was hashed with a publicly known function and encrypted with today’s vulnerable public/private key algorithms. A powerful government uses a quantum computer to calculate the private key. By hashing and encrypting a forged deed with the same function and private key, it becomes as legally valid as the original. Now imagine that the legitimate digital signature belongs to someone dead—there will be no one to argue against the forged claim and the property will retroactively have a new owner.
Now apply this to anything with a digital signature and the world becomes a scary place. Bank transfers, investment option contracts, life insurance policies. Much of our legal lives happen electronically across the internet today, so the threat to our past is already here.
NOW is the time to start protecting not only the future of your organization but the past of your organization’s future, as well. You must start encrypting sensitive information with post-quantum algorithms NOW so it will be protected from operationalization in the future.
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