According to reports circulating on the web, 24 Chinese researchers have reportedly succeeded in breaking RSA encryption using a quantum computer. This would be a significant achievement, as RSA encryption is widely used in current security practices. However, a number of experts, computer scientists, and cryptographers do not believe the researchers have made a significant discovery, based on the scientific paper published in Dec. 2022.
Quantum Computing Race Heats Up as Chinese Researchers Claim Breakthrough in RSA Encryption
In Sept. 2022, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) warned that a post-quantum world was coming soon and stressed that contemporary encryption techniques could break. Months later, in December 2022, a scientific paper published by 24 Chinese researchers claimed to have broken 2048-bit RSA encryption using a quantum computer. The paper follows a report from April 2022 that detailed that China was “taking the lead” in the quantum computing race.
Basically, a quantum computer is a type of computational device that uses quantum-mechanical phenomena and can perform operations on data faster than classical computers can perform computational tasks. RSA is named after its creators, Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman, and is widely used on today’s computer systems. It is an example of a public-key cryptography system, which means that modern computers often use it to encrypt and decrypt messages.
On January 5, 2023, the Financial Times (FT) reported on the paper that alleges Chinese researchers have claimed success in breaking RSA encryption. FT questioned a few experts about the paper, and Roger Grimes, a computer security expert and author, told FT: “It’s a huge claim — It would mean that governments could crack other governments’ secrets. If it’s true — a big if — it would be a secret like out of the movies, and one of the biggest things ever in computer science.”
There is also a Google Groups conversation where people are debating whether Chinese researchers have factored in 2048-bit integers. Bruce Schneier, a computer security and cryptography expert, published an analysis and stated that the paper relies on a disputed paper written by Peter Schnorr, a German mathematician. Schneier also shared his opinion with the Financial Times about the so-called quantum computing breakthrough. “We have no empirical proof that the [new] quantum algorithm overcomes the Schnorr scaling problem,” Schneier told the FT. “There’s no reason to believe it won’t—but there’s no reason to believe it will.”
Quantum computing’s potential to break contemporary encryption techniques has worried crypto proponents for some time. However, some believe that if quantum computers can break encryption, it will be a closely guarded secret. When asked if he thought a quantum computer could break Bitcoin’s cryptography, Bitcoin evangelist Andreas Antonopoulos once said, “The last thing they are going to use that on is Bitcoin.” Antonopoulos added:
Cause the moment you use it on Bitcoin you announce to the world we have quantum cryptography that can break [the] elliptic curve — Guess what happens? Your nuclear rivals upgrade their cryptography very easily and try to implement quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms.
Speaking with the FT, cryptography expert Bruce Schneier concluded that while the researchers’ paper may turn out to be unfounded, the race for a quantum computer to break encryption is heating up. “The betting is, as in all these cases, breaking RSA won’t work—but someday that bet will be wrong,” Schneier said.
What do you think about the reports about the Chinese researchers who have claimed success with breaking contemporary encryption techniques with a quantum computer? Let us know your thoughts about this subject in the comments section below.