A new "quantum proof" encryption standard is broken by a low-end PC

A new award-winning encryption standard is crackable by a PC with a single-core processor in under an hour. Naturally, the cryptographers who invented it were shocked!


Last month, The National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, announced the winners of a years-long competition to develop new encryption standards, the likes of which have been designed to protect against a hypothetical (for now) threat that hasn't been invented yet: quantum computers. Such hardware is projected to someday be so powerful that it will have the ability to easily decrypt our present-day public-key encryption (standards like RSA and Diffie-Hellman). To stave off this future threat, the U.S. government has invested in the creation of new encryption standards that can weather attacks by hardware of the days to come.

NIST selected four encryption algorithms that it said would provide adequate protections and that it plans to standardize, meaning others would be measured against them. The contest took years to unfold and involved droves of contenders from all over the world. After the four finalists were selected, NIST announced another four that were being considered as other potential candidates for standardization.

Unfortunately, one of those additional four algos doesn't seem so sturdy. SIKE—which stands for Supersingular Isogeny Key Encapsulation—was one of NIST's secondary finalists, but a recently discovered cyberattack managed to break SIKE relatively easily. Worse, the computer running the attack was about as far from a quantum computer as you could get: instead, it was a single-core PC (meaning that it's a lot slower than your typical PC, which has a multi-core processor), and it only took an hour for the little machine to unwind SIKE's supposedly tricksy encryption.