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Cybersecurity researchers and analysts are rightly worried that a new type of computer, based on quantum physics rather than more standard electronics, could break most modern cryptography. The effect would be to render communications as insecure as if they weren’t encoded at all.

Fortunately, the threat so far is hypothetical. The quantum computers that exist today are not capable of breaking any commonly used encryption methods. Significant technical advances are required before they will be able to break the strong codes in widespread use around the internet, according to a new report from the National Academy of Sciences.

Still, there is cause for concern. The cryptography underpinning modern internet communications and e-commerce could someday succumb to a quantum attack. To understand the risk and what can be done about it, it’s important to look more closely at digital cryptography and how it’s used – and broken.

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