Apple improves iMessage security to defend against quantum computing attacks

Apple improves iMessage security to defend against quantum computing attacks

Apple is improving the security of its iMessage app, aiming to defend against a looming future threat: advanced quantum computing attacks.

The changes will be part of a new system called PQ3, he said Manzana on Wednesday. It is a more advanced type of encryption that could thwart attacks by quantum computers, a still nascent technology that can perform calculations exponentially faster than traditional machines.

The fear is that these computers may one day have the power and mathematical capabilities to surpass current tools for encrypting messages. The new security protocol has already been added to beta versions of iOS 17.4, iPadOS 17.4, macOS 17.4, and watchOS 10.4, which will roll out to all users in the coming weeks. This will replace current security protocols for all iMessage chats before the end of the year.

Although hackers do not currently have quantum computers, they could carry out what is known as a “harvest now, decipher later.” That means they steal message data today and then use a more advanced computer in the future to break the encryption. Apple said its new system is designed to prevent this.

The warnings about attacks on quantum computing have been dire. International Business Machines Corp. executive Ana Paula Assis has said they will cause a “cybersecurity Armageddon.” SandboxAQ CEO Jack Hidary said these types of computers will be available by the end of the decade and will cause a security “train wreck.” Governments are also getting involved: the US Senate passed a bill two years ago to address the threat.

Apple said that PQ3 “has the strongest security properties of any large-scale messaging protocol in the world.” The company considers the defenses to be more powerful than those of the Signal messaging app, long known as the gold standard for encrypted communications.

Apple considers its new system to be at Level 3 security, while it places Signal at Level 2. The previous protocol for iMessage was at Level 1, in Apple’s opinion, the same level as Meta Platforms Inc’s WhatsApp . Other popular messaging apps such as Telegram, Skype, QQ and WeChat are listed below that, according to Apple’s analysis of the security of messaging applications.

The company also said that its current contact key verification system, which allows users to verify that they are actually communicating with the intended person, will come to its Vision Pro headphones. The change will be included with the visionOS 1.1 software update. Users with the feature enabled on their Apple devices previously had to disable it to send messages on Vision Pro.