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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

If and when quantum computers are developed, they will likely be able to break any cryptography standard in use today.

Why it matters: Governments and companies need to immediately begin future-proofing their online security against coming quantum computers, which will be exponentially faster than current technology.

A recent report from the RAND Corporation laid out a worrying scenario for governments, companies and anyone who has something they want to keep secret on the internet — which is all of us.

  • Even the most secure encryption in use today could theoretically be broken by quantum computers when they're developed in the future, according to Michael Vermeer, a physical scientist at RAND and the author of the report.
  • That's because quantum computers will be able to use quantum physics to solve problems classical computers never could — including math problems that underlie cryptography.
  • Vermeer estimates that such quantum computers likely won't be developed for 12 years or longer, which gives governments and the private sector some time to quantum-proof their internet security.

The catch: There's a risk to waiting, however. Vermeer lays out a scenario where spies or cyber criminals today intercept messages or security credentials.

  • Right now, there's nothing they can do with their catch, as current computers would be unable to break encryption. But quantum computers in the future will, and if they hold onto those intercepted messages long enough, the bad guys would be able to use their quantum computing to finally read what they caught — with potentially devastating consequences.
"It's catch now and exploit later. The costs will be less and the disruption will be less if we act on this now."
— Michael Vermeer

Go deeper

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 5 hours ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.