Today’s encryption relies on algorithmically generated keys that encode data shared between parties. These encryption algorithms are based on large prime numbers. While classical computers can very easily multiply two large prime numbers, breaking the result back down into prime numbers is much more difficult.
“Take 15 — you can easily factor that into primes. Three times five is 15,” says Arenz. “That becomes much harder when dealing with very large numbers, and most encryption protocols are based exactly on the fact that a classic computer cannot efficiently factor a large number into prime numbers.”
This encryption method leaves hackers two options to decipher secure information: either intercept a key or use powerful computers to predict the key. The latter isn’t currently feasible, but the massive jump in computing power promised by quantum computers is expected to deliver rapid and easy decryption.
This has led to a “harvest now, decrypt later” mindset in which bad actors capture troves of data, anticipating the ability to decrypt it later. It’s a bit like a thief stealing a near-uncrackable safe full of valuables with the assumption that they’ll eventually learn how to open it.
In recognition of this threat, governments and intelligence agencies around the world are racing to become the first to achieve quantum encryption. In 2018, the U.S. founded the National Quantum Initiative to propel the United States’ strategic advancement in quantum technology. Federal interest continues through new quantum funding programs established by the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. The recently passed CHIPS and Science Act delivers hundreds of millions in additional funding for QIST.
“This is a national competition, for a global advantage. We can’t afford to have siloed efforts throughout the country and our partner nations. The winner of the quantum race will gain an 80-year advantage — the outcomes are going to be that transformative,” Dudley says.
Creating a vital quantum-enabled workforce
In addition to fundamental research and technology development, another key aim of the Quantum Collaborative is workforce and education program development, a goal that ASU and other academic partners are well-positioned to achieve.
With the largest engineering school in the nation, ASU is also mobilizing significant resources to address a widespread need for quantum workforce development across many skill areas such as engineering, chemistry, materials science, human performance, communications and manufacturing.
“Academic and workforce program development is a federal interest and is as yet a relatively unmet call to action from the National Quantum Initiative,” says Dudley.