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Apple iOS 17.4: iMessage gets post-quantum encryption in new update

Apple iOS 17.4: iMessage gets post-quantum encryption in new update


Apple is launching its first post-quantum protection, one of the largest deployments of promising encryption technology to date.

The billions of medical records, financial transactions, and messages we send to each other are protected by encryption. It is the basis for keeping modern life and the global economy running relatively smoothly. But the decades-long race to develop quantum computers so powerful that they can easily break current encryption creates new risks.

Although quantum computing technology may still be years or decades away, security authorities, tech companies, and governments are ramping up efforts to begin using a new generation of post-quantum cryptography. There is. In short, these new cryptographic algorithms protect current systems from potential quantum computing-based attacks.

Today, Cupertino announced that PQ3's post-quantum cryptographic protocol will be incorporated into iMessage. This update starts on iOS and iPad OS 17.4 and macOS 14.4 after previously rolling out in a beta version of the software. Apple, who published this news on its security research blog, says this change is the most significant cryptographic security upgrade in the history of iMessage.

We've rebuilt the iMessage encryption protocol from scratch, the blog post said, adding that the upgrade is expected to completely replace the existing encryption protocol by the end of this year. You don't need to do anything other than update your operating system to apply the new protection.

Quantum computing is serious business. The governments of the United States, China, and Russia, as well as technology companies such as Google, Amazon, and IBM, are pouring billions of dollars into (still) relatively early-stage efforts to develop quantum computers. If successful, the technology could lead to scientific breakthroughs in everything from designing medicines to creating long-lasting batteries. Politicians are also competing to become quantum superpowers. Current quantum computing devices are still in the stage and are not practical for general use.

Unlike the computers we use today, quantum computers use qubits that can exist in multiple states. (The current bit is either 1 or 0.) This means that quantum devices can store more information and potentially perform more complex calculations, such as breaking encryption, than traditional computers.

Lukasz Olejnik, an independent cybersecurity and privacy researcher and consultant, says that if quantum computers are deployed in a reliable and scalable way, they could potentially break most of today's codes. This includes encrypting the messaging apps that billions of people use every day. Most encrypted messaging apps that use public key cryptography use RSA, Elliptic Curve, or Diffie-Hellman algorithms.

In response to potential threats that have been known since 1990, intelligence and security agencies have become increasingly vocal about the development and deployment of quantum-resistant cryptography. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is the driving force behind the creation of these new encryption types. Oleinik said tech companies are taking quantum threats very seriously. Oleinik said it's much more serious than older changes such as switching between hash functions, and given that post-quantum cryptography is still very new and we don't have a functioning quantum computer on the horizon, things will move relatively quickly. He added that progress is being made.




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