Almost three-quarters (73%) of cybersecurity professionals expect quantum computing to crack today’s encryption within the next five years, according to a survey by Neustar International Security Council (NISC).

Quantum computers, which draw from the laws of quantum mechanics to carry out advanced calculations, are currently in their infancy.

But when they mature, their additional computing power is expected to break today’s widely used asymmetric encryption algorithms.

Recent advances such as Google’s claim to achieve ‘quantum supremacy’ – when a quantum computer solves a problem that classical computers cannot – show that the field is gaining momentum.

In NISC’s survey of 305 senior security professionals across six EMEA and US markets, 54% expressed concerns that quantum computing will outpace the development of other security technologies.

“At the moment, we rely on encryption, which is possible to crack in theory, but impossible to crack in practice precisely because it would take so long to do so, over timescales of trillions or even quadrillions of years,” said Rodney Joffe, Chairman of NISC and Security CTO at Neustar.

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“Without the protective shield of encryption, a quantum computer in the hands of a malicious actor could launch a cyberattack unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Quantum computer cybersecurity: Harvest now, decrypt later

The consensus among experts is that quantum computers capable of cracking today’s encryption algorithms remain at least ten years away.

However, there is the danger that high-value encrypted data can be copied now and stored to decrypt later, once quantum computers are sufficiently powerful.

Firms such as IBM and Microsoft are developing ‘quantum-safe’ algorithms that can be applied by business now. Earlier this year IBM unveiled the first quantum-safe tape drive to future proof against this problem.

Some 21% of respondents said that they were already exploring quantum-safe strategies. A further 35% said that they were in the process of developing a quantum strategy.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is currently narrowing down a selection of quantum-safe algorithms that will protect against quantum cyberattacks.

“Quantum computing’s ability to solve our great scientific and technological challenges will also be its ability to disrupt everything we know about computer security. Ultimately, IT experts of every stripe will need to work to rebuild the algorithms, strategies, and systems that form our approach to cybersecurity,” added Joffe.

Read more: UK quantum computing investment to triple over next five years