Security experts and scientists predict that quantum computers will one day be able to break commonly used encryption methods rendering email, secure banking, crypto currencies, and communications systems vulnerable to significant cybersecurity threats. Organizations, technology providers, and internet standards will therefore soon be required to transition to quantum-safe encryption. Upon this backdrop, NATO has begun testing quantum-safe solutions to investigate the feasibility and practicality of such technology for real-world implementations while the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) launched a competition to identify and standardize quantum-safe encryption algorithms.Significant threats posed by quantum computingThe potential threats posed by a quantum future are considerable, assuming quantum computers reach their estimated potential. \u201cThe primary threat is to public-key encryption, which is based on certain one-way mathematical functions \u2013 easy to compute one way, but very difficult to solve in the other direction,\u201d cybersecurity expert and visiting professor at the University of Surrey\u2019s Department of Computer Science Alan Woodward tells CSO. \u201cThis is because of an algorithm first published by Peter Shor. Shor\u2019s algorithm has since been generalized and shown to apply to any of the mathematical problems known as the hidden subset problems.\u201dAndersen Cheng, CEO of UK-based tech firm Post-Quantum \u2013 whose hybrid VPN was successfully used by the NATO Cyber Security Centre to test secure post-quantum communication flows \u2013 concurs, adding that quantum computers are a \u201cmega threat\u201d that organizations and cybersecurity teams need to switch their attention to. \u201cIt has been theoretically proven that as quantum computers develop, they will be able to break today\u2019s encryption standards (RSA\/Elliptic Curve), which safeguard virtually all data flowing over networks,\u201d he tells CSO.This poses an existential threat to digital commerce, secure communications, and remote access, Cheng adds. \u201cWhen the day comes that quantum computers mature to the point where they are more powerful than classical computers (often referred to as Y2Q), everyone\u2019s data will be at risk of theft and exploitation, potentially with unimaginably dire consequences \u2013 think of the shutting off of entire power grids and emptying bitcoin wallets. Even before Y2Q arrives, it is known that some bad actors are already harvesting data today so they can decrypt it later when quantum computing has advanced further.\u201dQuantum-safe encryption key to addressing quantum threatsQuantum-safe encryption is key to addressing the quantum-based cybersecurity threats of the future, and Woodward predicts that a NIST candidate will eventually emerge as the new standard used to protect virtually all communications flowing over the internet, including browsers using TLS. \u201cGoogle has already tried experiments with this using a scheme called New Hope in Chrome,\u201d he says.Post-Quantum\u2019s own encryption algorithm, NTS-KEM (now known as Classic McEliece), is the only remaining finalist in the code-based NIST competition. \u201cMany have waited for NIST\u2019s standard to emerge before taking action on quantum encryption, but the reality now is that this could be closer than people think, and the latest indication is that it could be in the next month,\u201d says Cheng. Very soon, companies will need to start upgrading their cryptographic infrastructure to integrate these new algorithms, which could take over a decade, he says. \u201cMicrosoft\u2019s Brian LaMacchia, one of the most respected cryptographers in the world, has summarized succinctly that quantum migration will be a much bigger challenge than past Windows updates.\u201dGetting ahead in the quantum-safe encryption racePending NIST\u2019s decision on which algorithms will become the new standard, there are things organizations can and should be doing to get ahead. For Woodward, understanding what data has the longest life and, if necessary, seeking advice on how this might be at risk at some future date is a sound starting point.Cheng echoes similar sentiments, adding that if companies are struggling with where to start, they should focus on identity. \u201cYou could secure all of your encryption, but if someone can access your identity system, then it doesn\u2019t matter what else you do. Your systems will think they are the right person, so they can gain \u2018legitimate\u2019 access to your systems and infrastructure.\u201dCheng advises setting up Y2Q migration as a bespoke project and giving it the firepower it needs as, like any large IT program, migrating to a post-quantum world will need a dedicated team and resources to ensure success and a smooth transition. This team will need to take stock of where cryptography is deployed today across the organization and map out a migration path that prioritizes high-value assets, whilst also identifying any expected impact on operational systems, he says. \u201cYou\u2019ll also need to ensure that you have the skills on board to execute the quantum migration.\u201dFrom there, businesses should adopt a \u201ccrypto-agile\u201d approach when thinking about any infrastructure overhaul. \u201cPracticing crypto agility means that organizations use solutions that keep the tried and tested classical cryptography we use today alongside one or more post-quantum algorithms, offering greater assurance against both traditional attacks and future threats,\u201d Cheng says.