Major update to iMessage (two forms of end-to-end encryption) puts it on par with Signal

by alex

iMessage will undergo significant changes, making it one of the two messaging apps best prepared for the future advent of quantum computing, on par with Signal or perhaps even more resilient.

Apple said messages sent via iMessage will now be protected by two forms of end-to-end encryption (E2EE), up from just one before. The encryption being added, known as PQ3, is an implementation of a new algorithm called Kyber, which, unlike previous iMessage algorithms so far, cannot be broken using quantum computing. Apple is not replacing the old, quantum-vulnerable algorithm with PQ3, but adding to it. This means that in order to break the encryption, an attacker would have to break both algorithms.

The changes to iMessage come five months after the Signal Foundation, developer of the Signal protocol that encrypts messages used by more than a billion people, updated the open standard to also be post-quantum computing (PQC) ready. Like Apple, Signal added Kyber to X3DH, an algorithm it used previously. Together they are known as PQXDH, reports ArsTechnica.

iMessage and Signal provide end-to-end encryption—security that makes it impossible for anyone other than the sender and recipient to read a decrypted message. iMessage began offering E2EE with its launch in 2011. Signal became available in 2014.

One of the biggest threats to many forms of encryption is quantum computing. The power of the algorithms used in almost all messaging programs is based on mathematical problems that are easy to solve in one direction but extremely difficult in another. Unlike a traditional computer, a quantum computer with sufficient resources can solve these problems in much less time.

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No one knows how soon this day will come. One common estimate is that a quantum computer with 20 million qubits could crack a single 2048-bit RSA key in about eight hours. The largest quantum computer known today has 433 qubits.

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Whenever this future arrives, crypto engineers know it is inevitable. They also know that it is likely that some adversaries will collect and store as much encrypted data as possible now and decrypt it as soon as quantum advances make it possible. Apple and Signal's moves aim to protect against this development with Kyber, one of several PQC algorithms currently approved by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since Kyber is still relatively new, both iMessage and Signal will continue to use more proven algorithms for now.

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