The world is waiting for the first quantum computers, which are expected to revolutionize computing. Their unprecedented power may also enable them to crack the digital encryption system upon which the modern information and communication infrastructure depends. By breaking that encryption, quantum computing could jeopardize secure communications, financial transactions, and the support system for the global economy. This research explores those risks by assessing, first, how quickly quantum computers are likely to be developed; second, how quickly encryption that can withstand attacks by quantum computers, or postquantum cryptography (PQC), is likely to be standardized; and third, how quickly and widely PQC will be adopted. To do so, the authors employed a mixed-methods approach including expert elicitation and surveys to assess the likely events, risks, and uncertainties and recommend appropriate policies and risk-mitigation actions. The analysis concludes that the threat to the security of the modern communications infrastructure is urgent but manageable, and the authors offer recommendations to the U.S. government for responding.
Evan Peet is an economist at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. His research focuses on policies and costs. He has studies policies ranging from environmental, to healthcare, and emerging technologies. Dr. Peet is an expert in designing methods to capture the costs of policies, or the costs of their absence. Peet is an expert in cutting edge analytic methods incorporating big data, machine learning, and causal inference. Prior to joining RAND, Dr. Peet received his Ph.D. in economics from Duke University, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in global and environmental health at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.