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Quantum Computing And Cybersecurity

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By: Hugh Shepherd
February 23, 2021

Quantum computing (QC) is an up-and-coming technology and is widely considered the next monumental breakthrough in computing. It can potentially solve many of the most challenging and complex problems facing the world. Quantum computing can be extremely beneficial in many areas, such as space exploration, medical research, weather forecasting, climate change, artificial intelligence, traffic optimization, energy, finance, economics, and numerous other fields.

Quantum computing is rapidly developing into a huge growth industry. In 2018, the quantum computing market size was valued at 81.6 Million. It is expected to grow to $381.6 Million by the end of 2026. According to the financial data company Pitchbook, quantum computing startups in the U.S. received over $300 million in investments by mid-year 2020 alone. Compared to only $4 million invested in 2015, this is a massive jump in funding. Furthermore, the market intelligence company IDC predicts by 2023, 25% of the Fortune Global 500 will gain a competitive advantage via quantum computing.

Many well-known companies are making advances in quantum computing. In 2018, Google opened a quantum computing chip and testbed as part of its AI Quantum initiative and partnered with NASA to research how quantum computers can be used for some of the most challenging problems traditional computers cannot solve. In 2019, IBM announced the introduction of the IBM Q System One. This was a significant milestone because it’s the world’s first system designed for commercial use, and that operates out of an IBM cloud data center. Other organizations such as Amazon, AT&T, Baidu, Microsoft, D-Wave, and Rigetti, among others, are also involved in advancing quantum computing.

The positive benefits to society from quantum computing are boundless. Quantum computers can solve the most complicated mathematical problems in minutes, which would take traditional computers thousands of years to solve. With increased corporate investment and engagement, quantum computing is on the verge of reaching maturity.

But what are the potential downsides to achieving “quantum supremacy”?

Quantum Computing Briefly Explained

Quantum computing first began in the early 1980s. Research and development in the area continued throughout the decade and into the 1990s. However, by the late 90s, many researchers felt a “fault-tolerant” quantum computer was still in the distant future. However, as previously mentioned, recently, there have been significant increases both in investment and advancements in quantum computing technology.

In short, quantum computers use principles based on quantum theory to process information. Quantum computers are not an incremental improvement on existing computing concepts or massive “supercomputers” harnessing the power of traditional computing techniques. Instead, they are an entirely new approach to computing where physics’ customary laws no longer apply.

Unlike traditional computers that use binary bits with a value of either zero or one, quantum computers use quantum bits or qubits, representing zero, one, or both values simultaneously. This ability to represent two values simultaneously gives quantum computers a huge boost in performance than a traditional computer.
For computations, traditional computers need to process each possible solution one-by-one (i.e., each bit) to get the correct answer. However, in the world of quantum computing, using qubits, a quantum computer can process all possible solutions at once to find the best answer, which is much quicker than traditional computers. This enables quantum computers to solve problems in a single step, which would take conventional computers years, decades, or longer to solve. Even though this is a tremendous innovation, many of the current computer security techniques are trivial to crack.

Cybersecurity Concerns

The implications of achieving “quantum supremacy” are a concern to cybersecurity professionals. Quantum computers can solve problems that are far too complex for traditional computers. This powerful problem-solving ability also includes the algorithms behind the encryption currently used to protect the data, communications, and infrastructure at the heart of the Internet.

Specifically, quantum computing will allow the factoring of large prime numbers used in public-key cryptography. For example, the RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) asymmetric encryption is the de facto standard used in public-key cryptosystems for secure data transmission over the Internet. RSA achieves its strength through the computational challenge of factoring two large prime numbers. RSA is used for encryption, digital signatures, and secure online transactions.

Per a 2019 article in MIT Technology Review, many computer scientists consider it practically impossible for a traditional computer to factor numbers longer than 2048 bits, a commonly used key size in RSA encryption. However, per that same article, it would take a quantum computer only 8 hours to break 2048-bit RSA encryption. Eventually, QC will destroy the confidentiality and integrity of public-key cryptography.

QC poses other threats to individual privacy and national security. Specifically, information needs to maintain its secrecy for an extended amount of time, such as national security/top-secret data, corporate trade secrets, banking/financial data, and privacy act data (i.e., PII). This information is currently being stolen and retained by malicious actors in a “catch now, exploit later” strategy while they wait on the availability of QC to crack the encryption.

Even though the availability of general-purpose and easily accessible quantum computers are probably several years off, these cybersecurity concerns are significant enough that steps to improve security should be taken now.

Post-Quantum

The widespread adoption of quantum computing is still a future state. However, at the current rate of progress, some experts project that by 2022 there will be limited use cases of quantum computing, such as in research simulations for medicine or finance. Further applications of QC in areas such as artificial intelligence, traffic optimization, and energy are expected by 2026, and widespread commercial use by 2030.

Change is happening fast, but there’s still time to improve the security posture of organizations. Based on research and guidance provided by various information security researchers, the following list contains several actions that can help to prepare for the post-quantum world:

  • Identify Assets and Risks – Conduct an audit to identify assets and exposure to quantum related threats. Specifically, identify the cryptographic standards currently in use and the types and locations of data that is being protected. Develop a risk management plan to address the findings in a timely and efficient manner.
  • Adopt Quantum-Resistant Cryptography – Researchers are currently working to develop public-key algorithms resistant to quantum computing code-breaking. Most notably, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is currently evaluating 69 new potential “post-quantum cryptography” methods. NIST anticipates having a draft standard by 2024, if not sooner.
  • Transform into a Crypto-Agile Enterprise – Being an organization with “crypto-agility” involves being an early adopter of new quantum-resistant protocols, investing in quantum-safe hardware security modules, and ensuring third-party vendors are also taking steps to counter quantum threats. Knowing your environment, having organization-wide visibility, and taking the right action at the time of a real threat are all essential steps to mitigate the risk.
  • Implement a Long-term Strategy – Create strategies and plans to accomplish tasks such as migrating sensitive data to quantum-ready architectures. Develop a technical transformation roadmap to migrate to new quantum-resistant technologies.
  • Build Quantum Literacy – Even a basic understanding of quantum computing and technologies is beneficial. Fundamental knowledge of quantum computing enables better recognition of the severity and immediacy of quantum computing’s potential threats to security. Therefore, investing in training and education is crucial.

Summary

Quantum computing and quantum technologies, in general, will transform the world. Quantum computing will bring numerous benefits, but it will also catalyze significant cybersecurity threats as it’s currently applied. This looming threat is causing much anxiety across the globe. According to a 2019 TechRepublic survey, 71 percent of global organizations view quantum computing as a significant threat.

The quantum threat is real, but innovation and progress should not be feared. Instead, embrace change and act now to prepare for the post-quantum world. In the same TechRepublic survey, 95 percent of respondents said they are discussing at least one tactic to protect themselves, and 56 percent said they are already investing in post-quantum cryptography. Bottom line, don’t panic but take the challenge head-on by committing to taking the necessary action to improve.

Having foundational knowledge and skills in cybersecurity, cryptography, data science, and other disciplines is also an ideal place to start. This foundational knowledge has the potential to enable cybersecurity professionals to quickly grasp and identify potential opportunities and threats posed by emerging technologies such as quantum computing.

Cybrary is a go-to source to provide technical training in numerous cybersecurity and information technology areas in general. Some related courses and topics include:


References: 4 Steps to Prepare for Quantum Computing https://securityboulevard.com/2020/08/4-steps-to-prepare-for-quantum-computing/

8 Quantum Computing Applications & Examples https://builtin.com/hardware/quantum-computing-applications

Global Quantum Computing Market - Segment Analysis, Opportunity Assessment, Competitive Intelligence, Industry Outlook 2016-2026 https://www.alltheresearch.com/report/150/Quantum%20Computing-market

Google and NASA Achieve Quantum Supremacy https://www.nasa.gov/feature/ames/quantum-supremacy/

How a quantum computer could break 2048-bit RSA encryption in 8 hours https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/05/30/65724/how-a-quantum-computer-could-break-2048-bit-rsa-encryption-in-8-hours/

How to Neutralize Quantum Security Threats https://builtin.com/cybersecurity/how-neutralize-quantum-security-threats

IBM is taking the long view on quantum computing https://www.verdict.co.uk/ibm-is-taking-the-long-view-on-quantum-computing/

Introduction to quantum computing and the Quantum Development Kit https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/quantum/overview/overview

Is Quantum Computing a Cybersecurity Threat? https://www.americanscientist.org/article/is-quantum-computing-a-cybersecurity-threat

Preparing for quantum computing’s devastating impact on cybersecurity https://www.verdict.co.uk/quantum-computing-cybersecurity/

The Promise and Impact of Quantum Computing on Cybersecurity https://www.analyticsinsight.net/the-promise-and-impact-of-quantum-computing-on-cybersecurity/

Quantum Computing https://www.nas.nasa.gov/projects/quantum.html#:~:text=Quantum%20Computing.%20In%20support%20of%20NASA%27s%20Quantum%20Artificial,potential%20for%20quantum%20computers%20to%20tackle%20optimization%20

Quantum Computing https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/quantum-computing

Quantum computers: How to prepare for this great threat to information security https://www.helpnetsecurity.com/2020/11/06/quantum-computers-threat/

Quantum Computers Will Break the Internet, but Only If We Let Them https://www.rand.org/blog/articles/2020/04/quantum-computers-will-break-the-internet-but-only-if-we-let-them.html

What Is Quantum Computing? A Super-Easy Explanation For Anyone https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/07/04/what-is-quantum-computing-a-super-easy-explanation-for-anyone/?sh=771bbaa51d3b

What is the quantum computing impact on cybersecurity? https://quantumxc.com/quantum-computing-impact-on-cybersecurity/#:~:text=The%20quantum%20computing%20impact%20on%20cybersecurity%20is%20profound,a%20change%20in%20how%20we%20encrypt%20our%20data.

When will Quantum Computing Come to Mainstream? https://www.analyticsinsight.net/when-will-quantum-computing-come-to-mainstream/

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