Quantum Computing to Boost Security using Random Numbers

John Lister's picture

Quantum computers could produce genuinely random numbers according to new research. It could boost security, an ironic effect given fears over the ways cyber criminals could use quantum computing.

In extremely simplified terms, a quantum computer uses quantum physics in which something can exist in more than one state at a time. That's in contrast to traditional computing where data is stored in bits that represent either a 0 or a 1 at any given time.

To date, the main claimed advantage of quantum computing has been processing speed. The same "bit" representing multiple states removes a significant slowdown on the way a computer carries out an operation. One analogy is that it's like the way somebody could solve a maze substantially quicker if they could somehow try multiple routes at the same time.

Now researchers at the University of Texas believe they've found a practical way to take advantage of another feature of quantum computers: generating genuinely random numbers. (Source: newscientist.com)

When 'Random' Is Predictable

Existing random number generators are not actually random. Understanding this borders on the philosophical, but the principle is that a traditional computer will always carry out instructions in a predictable manner. Knowing how the computer generates the "random number" will, in principle, make that number predictable.

Computers get round this by producing "pseudorandom" numbers that reduce the predictability enough to make it impractical to predict the number. For example, they may include a variable such as the precise time the calculation happened, and use this as part of the calculation to produce the number. This is also referred to as a random 'seed'. (Source: computerhope.com)

Quantum computing uses physics that includes a degree of genuine randomness. That could greatly increase security that uses random (or pseudorandom) numbers to make an encryption process difficult or impossible for a third party to reverse.

True Randomness Confirmed

The problem until now has been that there's been no way to tell if a "random number" truly is a random production of quantum computing or is simply a traditional computer producing pseudorandom numbers and trying to pass them off as random.

Scott Aaronson and Shih-Han Hung say they've found a way to tell the difference. It involves asking the computer in question to generate random numbers, then trying to repeating the process on a traditional computer to try to get the same results. If they can, the process is clearly not genuinely random.

Ultimately it could mean being able to create genuinely random numbers. That could help in security cases where encryption is so important that the users need certainty that nobody could replicate a pseudorandom number and thus reverse encryption.

What's Your Opinion?

Did you know random numbers are such a key part of security? Does the quantum process sound viable? Do you trust that computer encryption will continue to be reliable enough in the coming years?

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Focused100's picture

I'd sure Like to Know When Random Numbers will be Available