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Although substantial gains have been made in theory, materials, and measurement, since 2001 the size of quantum computers has increased to only seventy-two physical qubits.There has been no demonstration of a single logical qubit that could serve as the building block of a large-scale quantum computer, and thousands of such qubits would be needed for applications to cryptanalysis. And although there is substantial uncertainty about the future pace of improvements to quantum computers, and some experts question whether quantum computers large enough to impact cryptography can ever be built, it is realistically possible that a practical quantum computer could become available over the next ten to twenty years that would be sufficiently large to place many encryption systems at risk.Decryption without knowing the key amounts, in practice, to a kind of brute-force search: it requires searching an extremely large space of possible secret keys, trying different keys in turn until finding one that unlocks the encrypted data.On a classical computer, the expected time required to do this is proportional to the number of possible keys that exist—the searcher must try half of the possible keys to have a fifty-fifty chance of trying the correct one.Regardless, current data collection could pose risks if an adversary is recording encrypted communications, or acquiring or breaking into systems to collect encrypted stored data.If that is the case, and if such an adversary were to acquire a quantum computer in ten to twenty years, they would be in a position to quickly decrypt all the data they had collected to date.Even before fully quantum systems become practical, many experts predict that the anticipated transition to quantum computing will likely involve the use of hybrid systems that combine limited quantum computing functionality with classical supercomputers to reach significantly higher effective processing speeds than classical-only devices.

Other encryption algorithms are not prone to being defeated so thoroughly by a method like Shor’s Algorithm.This approach would be enough to defeat many encryption methods if they are not adjusted.In this case, it is possible to compensate for the effect of quantum computing by increasing the key size, expanding the space that must be searched by brute force, so as to counteract the effect of Grover’s Algorithm.For many encryption algorithms, doubling the key size, say from 128 bits to 256 bits, has the effect of squaring the size of the key space that someone without the key would have to search.This countermeasure exactly offsets the square-root effect of Grover’s Algorithm, restoring the security level of the pre-quantum algorithm.