3 April 2024

Why Open Source Is Mandatory For Secure Communication In A Quantum World

Matthias Pfau

After AI, the next revolution in tech will be quantum computers. This amazing new generation of computers will have an unimaginable amount of computational power that will bring a multitude of innovations to not only the tech sphere, but also other areas like biology, medicine, climate research and more. Yet, quantum computers also challenge the backbone of our online security: encryption.

To keep up with this challenge, we must future-proof our online communication with post-quantum encryption in combination with open-source software. As concerns about data breaches and cyber threats arise, the role of open-source software becomes increasingly central.

This article will explore the profound importance of open source, particularly when constructing online communication tools with maximum security and post-quantum encryption.

Benefits Of Open-Source Development

Starting as a grassroots movement, free and open-source software has become indispensable in our modern world of technology. The internet as we know it today would not work without tools like OpenSSL (TLS), MySQL, Apache and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), which are only some of the open-source technologies out there that power the web.

With open-source software, the source code is made freely available for review, modification, and distribution, which has made open-source software immensely popular, as most big tech services rely on, at least in part, such software. One major success pillar of open-source software, and the most important one when it comes to security, is transparency and trust. Open-source projects publish their entire code so that it is fully accessible for security reviews, but also for other developers who want to use the existing code to build their own products and services.

When it comes to updating communication services with post-quantum encryption, transparency is a fundamental requirement for security. Users, security experts and organizations can scrutinize the open-source code, identify vulnerabilities and contribute to the improvement of the software. This collaborative approach creates a dynamic feedback loop that enhances the overall security of the end product. This principle isn’t only supported by advocates, but most cryptographic researchers agree that open public review is a requirement for secure cryptography, both traditional and post-quantum.

Community scrutiny is an integral part of this process, as the collective power of a diverse community of developers is a much stronger force than only relying on internal security reviews and testing. With open source, bugs and vulnerabilities can be identified and patched much faster than in closed-source projects. The distributed approach to security significantly reduces the likelihood of critical vulnerabilities going unnoticed, providing a robust defense against potential threats.

Post-Quantum Encryption And The Quantum Threat

As the introduction of quantum computers advances, so does the potential threat it poses to existing cryptographic algorithms. Quantum computers have the capability to break widely used encryption methods, rendering much of today's secure communication vulnerable. In light of this, the importance of post-quantum encryption becomes a top priority for safeguarding sensitive information in the era of quantum computing.

To prepare for the quantum future, open-source software must be at the forefront of developing and implementing post-quantum encryption standards. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced four finalists as quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms, which are now actively explored by tech companies around the world to update their products with post-quantum encryption. Signal and Apple have recently launched updates to their chat services with quantum-safe encryption, and emails with post-quantum cryptography are also in the works at my company.

Although Apple does not publish its code as open source, Signal and others are doing so, which is a must for the rapid integration of new cryptographic algorithms. By utilizing the collective intelligence of the open-source community, cloud service providers can stay ahead in the race to secure data in a quantum world.

Global Collaboration

Quantum computers loom on the horizon, but widespread adoption is still in the future. Yet, we need to prepare for the quantum revolution now. We must protect our online communication from the threat of “harvest now, decrypt later.” This concept refers to a strategy mainly used by three-letter government agencies that collect encrypted data now in the hopes of being able to decrypt the messages at a later stage.

Today, all projects updating to post-quantum security implement a hybrid protocol that relies on new, post-quantum encryption algorithms as well as traditional and well-tested algorithms. The reason for this is that new algorithms must be tested thoroughly to make sure no vulnerabilities exist. This can only be achieved in an open-source environment where lots of eyes can scrutinize the freely published code.

The quantum threat is a global challenge that requires a collaborative response. The researchers, cryptographers and developers from around the world must all work toward the same goal: producing encryption methods that stand up to the challenges posed by quantum computers.

Security Is Paramount

Security is non-negotiable when handling data in the cloud or transmitting it online, but maximum security becomes more challenging with the rise of quantum computers. As quantum computing is about to become a reality, the importance of open source cannot be overstated. The transparency, security through community scrutiny and flexibility inherent to open-source software make it an ideal choice for developing communication services with maximum security and post-quantum encryption.

The collaborative power of open-source software ensures that cloud services can protect users’ data against existing and upcoming cyber threats, as well as respond to new challenges posed by quantum computing. With open-source software, developers can increase the level of security for all in a quantum world and make sure that our online data remains safe and sound.

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