If quantum computing ever lives up to its promise (and that’s still a big ‘if’ at this stage), somebody could use this technology to retroactively break any communications that were encrypted with today’s standard encryption algorithms. To guard against this, Google today announced that it will now start experimenting using post-quantum algorithms to encrypt the connections between the experimental Canary version of Chrome and some of its services.
To be clear, this is only an experiment for now and only a small number of connections between the browser and Google’s servers will use this new algorithm.
The idea here, though, is to bring this idea to the forefront now and “gain real-world experience with the larger data structures that post-quantum algorithms will likely require,” as Google engineer Matt Braithwaite writes in today’s announcement.
Few people fully understand quantum computing, let alone quantum cryptography. As best as I can tell, though, the new system will use standard cryptography in addition to this new post-quantum key-exchange algorithm. Specifically, the team is using the New Hope algorithm, which was designed for providing post-quantum security for TLS — the protocol that makes HTTPS secure.
Google, which has a history of launching new internet protocols, specifically says that it doesn’t want to create a new de-facto standard. Braithwaite notes that New Hope was the most promising post-quantum key exchange the team found when it investigated this project in December 2015. Since then, though, more research in this area has already been published — including from a team of Google researchers who collaborated with NXP, Microsoft, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica and McMaster University. Because of this, Google plans to discontinue the current experiment within two years.
If you want to participate in the experiment, you’ll have to install the Canary version of Chrome (which can be unstable at times) and with a bit of luck, the occasional connection to Google’s servers will then be encrypted using this new algorithm. To see which protocol Chrome used to open a site, check out the Security Panel in the Chrome dev tools. If you see ‘CECPQ1,’ then the connection used the new system.