China’s claims about breaking quantum encryption ‘should make us uncomfortable’: expert

A group of Chinese scientists claim they have developed a means to crack public encryption using quantum computers.

In a paper published online in late December, 24 Chinese researchers claimed they had developed a means to use quantum computers to break the RSA public encryption scheme commonly used in the financial and telecom industries.

If true, the paper could have far-reaching ramifications for national security and the future of data and privacy.

According to Arthur Herman, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, the paper’s release is likely related to broader efforts by the Chinese communist regime to develop technologies that can undermine the United States’ key technologies.

“It’s all part of the same pattern of the Chinese using advanced technology … for a strategic advantage,” Herman told The Epoch Times.

“The US really needs to develop its own plan, its own way of not only dealing with the Chinese threat, but also advancing our own strategic interests in the same coherent way.”

A warning to the west

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China as a one-party state, has been working quickly to develop the quantum technology possible to crack public encryption systems like RSA and bring down the West from within.

Herman, who also serves as director of the Hudson Institute’s Quantum Alliance Initiative, believes the CCP is unable to crack this encryption, contrary to what the paper claims. Instead, the paper was intended to serve as a warning against the regime’s ambitions.

“I think you need to examine very carefully whether the claim is valid or not,” Herman said. “I would say…it doesn’t pose an immediate threat, but it should make us uncomfortable.”

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“Don’t wave that threat away. That’s coming. And it’s just another indication that the Chinese are working hard on it.”

Traditional processors use bits as the most basic unit of information. Bits can be rotated to one of two positions, off or on, forming the 0s and 1s of binary code.

Quantum processors use quantum bits or qubits instead of bits. While normal bits can only be turned on or off, qubits can be turned on, off, or turned on and off simultaneously, in a phenomenon known as superposition.

The existence of this third state will theoretically allow quantum processors to achieve much faster processing speeds than their traditional counterparts, making them invaluable for cybersecurity.

As such, Herman previously described quantum computing as the “ultimate weapon” and the race for quantum supremacy as “potentially as important as the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb.”

To that end, he said the research paper should come as a warning to the West about the CCP’s ambitions for the near future.

“If you read the newspaper carefully, you realize they haven’t really broken into anything,” Herman said in a recent interview with China in Focus on NTD, a sister outlet of The Epoch Times.

“What they claim is that they have developed a universal quantum decryption algorithm, one that can be used to factor the large numbers that underlie our public encryption systems.

“Well, it’s a code-breaking algorithm. What it needs is a machine big enough and powerful enough, with enough qubit power and enough processing power to be used and manipulated in a way that would make it a truly dangerous device.”

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A propaganda victory for communist China

Although the CCP does not yet have a device to crack the United States’ public encryption systems, Herman said the paper’s release was likely intended to achieve a propaganda victory for the regime.

“If the Chinese really had an algorithm that could do all these amazing, dangerous and terrifying things, they wouldn’t be promoting it,” Herman said. “They would just use it.”

“Is it something we have to worry about now? no Does such an announcement have great propaganda value for China? Absolutely.”

As such, Herman said there was no reason to panic, but that the paper should motivate Western leaders to get their heads in the game and work to quickly develop quantum capabilities ahead of the CCP.

“The push that China is making to achieve this breakthrough, to have this all-powerful quantum computer, is just one front in a multi-front war they are waging against us on the high-tech frontier,” Herman said.

“[This paper] should make us uncomfortable because it means this ability is coming and we are moving in that direction step by step.”

Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defence, military affairs and national security. He has a Masters in Military History from Norwich University.

Tiffany Meier

Tiffany Meier is a New York-based reporter and host of NTD’s Focus on China.