Google is Ex­per­i­ment­ing Post- Quan­tum Cryp­tog­ra­phy in Chrome Ca­nary

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The en­cryp­tion meth­ods avail­able to pro­tect to­day’s in­ter­net com­mu­ni­ca­tions won’t be im­pen­e­tra­ble for­ever. The ad­vanced cryp­tog­ra­phy ca­pa­bil­i­ties of fu­ture quan­tum com­put­ers could very well crack even the most se­cure en­cryp­tion cur­rently avail­able. That’s why Google an­nounced that it has be­gun an ex­per­i­ment in Chrome Ca­nary browser to test a new post-quan­tum cryp­to­graphic al­go­rithm de­signed to pre­vent de­cryp­tion at­tacks by code break­ers of the fu­ture.

The ex­per­i­ment by the search gi­ant

is an ef­fort to check how re­sis­tant the new post-quan­tum cryp­to­graphic al­go­rithm is to at­tacks by quan­tum com­put­ers, a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent kind of com­puter that uses quan­tum bits and the prin­ci­ples of quan­tum physics to solve cer­tain dif­fi­cult prob­lems dra­mat­i­cally faster than to­day’s con­sumer grade com­put­ers. Cur­rently, quan­tum com­put­ers only ex­ist in the form of small ex­per­i­men­tal ma­chines, but the tech in­dus­try has been work­ing on to bring larger and more pow­er­ful ver­sions to make them a main­stream re­al­ity. Though the ma­chines hold prom­ise for re­search, they also raise acute chal­lenges for cryp­tog­ra­phers.

Un­like con­ven­tional com­put­ers that deal in bits, quan­tum com­put­ers work with quan­tum bits, or qubits, each of which can be zero or one or both. The po­si­tion­ing of qubits al­lows ma­chines to com­plete mul­ti­ple com­pu­ta­tions si­mul­ta­ne­ously with far greater ef­fi­ciency, mak­ing a quan­tum com­puter most de­sir­able for some of the com­plex tasks. Ap­par­ently, one of those work­loads could be in­fil­trat­ing en­cryp­tion, and so some re­searchers have been com­ing up with ways to pre­vent such at­tacks. Last year, a few aca­demics de­vel­oped New Hope al­go­rithm, im­ple­mented from Peik­ert’s ring- learn­ing- with- er­rors- based (RING-LWE) key-ex­change pro­to­col that works with OPENSSL. Google chose to ex­per­i­ment with this new al­go­rithm that is en­abled in Chrome on just a few con­nec­tions be­tween the browser and Google servers, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s soft­ware en­gi­neer Matt Braith­waite. How­ever, the test will be con­ducted only for a cou­ple of years as the Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia com­pany be­lieves it can re­place the al­go­rithm with some­thing bet­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to Braith­waite’s blog post, the post-quan­tum cryp­tog­ra­phy al­go­rithm might still be pen­e­tra­ble with con­ven­tional com­put­ers, in which case the ex­ist­ing el­lip­tic-curve al­go­rithm will con­tinue to pro­vide the best se­cu­rity the cur­rent tech­nol­ogy can of­fer. Like­wise, if the post-quan­tum al­go­rithm emerges as se­cure, then it will pro­tect the con­nec­tion even against a fu­ture quan­tum com­puter. The work is cru­cial con­sid­er­ing the fact that the Navy and de­fense con­trac­tor Lock­heed Martin have both worked with pri­vately held com­pany D-wave on quan­tum com­put­ing. In the in­terim, the search gi­ant has been re­search­ing de­vel­op­ment of quan­tum com­put­ing in­fras­truc­ture, as have Mi­crosoft and IBM, among oth­ers.

Those us­ing Chrome Ca­nary can see if the tech gi­ant is ex­per­i­ment­ing cryp­tog­ra­phy on a con­nec­tion to a given page by just open­ing the In­spect tool (com­mand/con­trol + shift + I) and then go­ing to the Se­cu­rity sec­tion. The ob­vi­ous sign is the code CECPQ1 in the key ex­change sec­tion, ac­cord­ing to Braith­waite.

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