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The Year Ahead in Encryption

Quantum computing, Signal, and Elon Musk will define the security of our data in 2023.

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Lucas Ropek covers cybersecurity and privacy for Gizmodo. You can follow his coverage here, and email story ideas and tips to lropek@gizmodo.com.

The top story:

Concern about the powers of quantum computers (which haven’t actually been invented yet) has spurred one of the biggest cryptographic breakthroughs of the era: post-quantum encryption algorithms. Last year the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded a nearly decade-long competition to develop new algorithms to protect from quantum attacks. The algorithms are expected to see broader deployment by federal agencies this year, though experts estimate that it may take as long as a decade for post-quantum cryptography to really start seeing active use.

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What we’re waiting for:

  • End-to-end encryption for Facebook Messenger and Instagram is actually supposed to happen this year.
  • FIDO, the cryptographic standard that Big Tech claims will replace the password, is scheduled to see a wider release. The promised shakeup in platform and application security uses public-key cryptography to authenticate web users—as opposed to your stealthy “12345" passcode.
  • Europe is set to have an ugly regulatory showdown over encryption. EU lawmakers wants to scan everybody’s messages so they know who the “terrorists” and pedophiles are. Normal people don’t want that. Who will get their way?
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Unconventional wisdom:

You should donate to Signal. Meredith Whittaker, the new president of the popular E2E encrypted chat app, has said the platform is looking for a long-term financial strategy to keep the messenger—which has historically been free—up and running. Whittaker has clarified she’s interested in “optional donations,” not a subscription service. While paying for something that is technically free might sound bad, let’s do a cost-benefit analysis here: If it’s between shelling out a few bucks now and then to keep your conversations private, and leaving your data to twist in the wind, which are you going to choose? We don’t actually know what the future holds for Signal but the point is, paid or not, supporting the platform is a good idea.

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People to follow:

  • Matthew Green - One of the best sources in encryption news. A cryptographer and professor at Johns Hopkins University, Green’s blog is a great source of information for those who want to stay current and up-to-date with the tech.
  • Meredith Whittaker - The new president of Signal is shaking things up at the privacy platform. She tweets, she blogs, and she occasionally does interviews. Best to pay attention to what she says.
  • Peter Shor - As quantum encryption becomes more and more of a thing, one guy you’re going to want to know is Shor. A brilliant MIT professor, Shor’s algorithm is considered to be one of the foundational mathematical pieces to the quantum puzzle.
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Companies to watch:

  • SandboxAQ - A spinoff from Google, this startup is looking to provide security services during the “post-quantum” era, whenever that happens.
  • Vaultree - This company provides homomorphic encryption via a software-as-a-service model. It’s an increasingly popular form of encryption said to bolster protections significantly.
  • Signal - Since its founding in 2014, it’s been one of the most consistent defenders of personal privacy on the web. After Moxie Marlinspike stepped down last year and Whittaker took over, it’s continued to be a platform that everybody who cares about privacy should care about.
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A longshot bet:

Elon Musk will make good on his promise to encrypt Twitter messages. Am I sure about this prognostication? No, not at all. However, amidst the dumpster fire of post-Dorsey Twitter, Musk has consistently done what he said he was going to do. Unfortunately, a lot of that stuff has turned out to be stupid... but encrypted messaging is an exception to this rule. We’re also witnessing an end-to-end-encryption arms race in Silicon Valley right now with the rollout of E2EE iCloud backups, Meta’s supposed Messenger encryption plans, and Google’s decision to introduce E2EE for Gmail. If Musk maintains his role as CEO long enough, he will deliver on this.

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