Apple introduces PQ3 protocol to address threat of encryption-breaking technologies

In a bid to counter the potential threat of quantum computing, Apple plans to roll out the PQ3 protocol for iMessage, replacing its existing encryption protocol.

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Apple is addressing the potential threat of encryption-breaking technologies by introducing an upgrade to its iMessage texting platform known as PQ3. This move is in response to the looming impact of quantum computing, which could render current encryption methods obsolete. Apple plans to fully replace the existing cryptographic protocol with PQ3 in all supported conversations by the end of this year.

Apple claims that its encryption algorithms are state-of-the-art and have not been successfully attacked thus far. However, government officials and scientists express concerns about the advent of quantum computers, which could significantly weaken these encryption protections. This prompted both the United States and China to invest heavily in quantum research and post-quantum cryptography, with allegations of intercepting and storing massive amounts of encrypted data in preparation for a future event known as ‘Q-Day,’ when quantum computing breakthroughs occur.

To mitigate these concerns, Apple’s PQ3 upgrade incorporates a series of technical safeguards to counter the potential vulnerabilities posed by quantum computing. By rebuilding the cryptographic protocol from scratch and publicly strengthening its defences, Apple demonstrates its proactive approach in protecting user communications. Michael Biercuk, founder and CEO of quantum tech company Q-CTRL, sees Apple’s actions as a vote of confidence in the impact of quantum computing.

Why does it matter?

A significant issue with the progress in quantum computing revolves around the potential to compromise encryption methods once they become widely accessible. Efforts are currently in progress to formulate algorithms and establish standards for quantum-safe cryptography. Various standard-setting bodies are highly engaged in this endeavour, operating at national, regional, and international levels. Notably, technology companies are actively involved. For instance, Google declared last year that it is currently securing internal communications using post-quantum cryptography based on its encryption-in-transit protocol, Application Layer Transport Security (ALTS) protocol.