Mathematicians have prevented a world disaster, behind the scenes

Recently, after taking the Coursera course on Cryptography, I had a better appreciation of mathematics and the role of cryptography in our modern society.

I was pleased to read this article Quantum compute this: Mathematicians build code to take on toughest of cyber attacks, and Washington State University mathematicians have designed an encryption code capable of fending off the phenomenal hacking power of a quantum computer.

The quantum computer, though not yet invented, is widely believed to be available soon in the next few years. In the hands of hackers, the quantum computer would be a formidable weapon as current cryptographic methods are extremely vulnerable to the quantum computer as it can factor numbers extremely quickly, leading to number theoretic codes being broken.

What would happen if a Quantum Computer is built

Quantum computers are near

Quantum computers operate on the subatomic level and theoretically provide processing power that is millions, if not billions of times faster than silicon-based computers. Several companies are in the race to develop quantum computers including Google.

Internet security is no match for a quantum computer, said Nathan Hamlin, instructor and director of the WSU Math Learning Center. That could spell future trouble for online transactions ranging from buying a book on Amazon to simply sending an email.

Hamlin said quantum computers would have no trouble breaking present security codes, which rely on public key encryption to protect the exchanges.

In a nutshell, public key code uses one public “key” for encryption and a second private “key” for decoding. The system is based on the factoring of impossibly large numbers and, so far, has done a good job keeping computers safe from hackers.

Quantum computers, however, can factor these large numbers very quickly, Hamlin said. But problems like the knapsack code slow them down.

Fortunately, many of the large data breaches in recent years are the result of employee carelessness or bribes and not of cracking the public key encryption code, he said.

Hence, when many people say mathematics is useless, they are actually extremely wrong, as mathematics permeates every aspect of life! Even though maths like calculus is not directly used in everyday life, it is part of our phone, computer, and every part of the modern lifestyle.

Kudos to the mathematicians who have averted a world disaster, before quantum computers are even invented!

If you are interested in what a quantum computer is, and what it can do (it is so powerful that whoever has one would hold the keys to the entire internet), check out this book Schrödinger’s Killer App: Race to Build the World’s First Quantum Computer.

Written by a renowned quantum physicist closely involved in the U.S. government’s development of quantum information science, Schrödinger’s Killer App: Race to Build the World’s First Quantum Computer presents an inside look at the government’s quest to build a quantum computer capable of solving complex mathematical problems and hacking the public-key encryption codes used to secure the Internet. The “killer application” refers to Shor’s quantum factoring algorithm, which would unveil the encrypted communications of the entire Internet if a quantum computer could be built to run the algorithm. Schrödinger’s notion of quantum entanglement—and his infamous cat—is at the heart of it all.

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2 Responses to Mathematicians have prevented a world disaster, behind the scenes

  1. ivasallay says:

    “Schrödinger’s notion of quantum entanglement—and his infamous cat—is at the heart of it all.” sounds like it could be a spy thriller.

    Like

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