How quantum computing can influence global cybersecurity

Guest author, Arrow Kimpel, discusses how quantum computing can influence cybersecurity and how this futuristic technology can influence various industries.

Quantum computing has recently become a cause célêbre among pundits and researchers who are prophesying doom and a degrading of existing balances once this futuristic technology begins to hold sway in today’s world.

The long-term prospect for technological marvels remains sound as advancements in computer science continue to surge us through a world transformed. Though still in infancy, the maturation of quantum computing is able to make fundamental changes in various industries and essentially in all human activity aspects in a profoundly new way. Quantum algorithms have already proved to have a dominating power over conventional algorithms both in terms of efficiency and processing speeds. Quantum computers solve solutions that fall far outside the purview of regular computers. They are faster at breaking codes, have better problem-solving abilities, they could factor large numbers easily, and attempt multiple combinations at once while greatly diminishing the amount of time to reach the correct answer.

At the other end of the spectrum, the advantages that they are likely to bring in Artificial Intelligence and various economic, medical, and environmental fields are inferior to the perils that lay ahead. The point at issue here according to ExpertInsights, is that they can be a “double-edged sword as quantum computing may also create new exposures, such as the ability to quickly solve the difficult maths problems that are the basis of some forms of encryption.”

They may pose a categorical threat to classified information, personal and financial data, networks, databases, and basically the entire cyber domain. By principle, with a large-scale, fully operational quantum computer, you can collect or alter sensitive information or mount a sophisticated cyberattack that could render all networks and devices around the world to go on the fritz. It might be tempting to act nonchalantly about it which makes it easier to proceed at a leisurely pace discounting the threat. Indeed, the quantum computing threat is still a long way off, be that as it may, we cannot undermine the magnitude of the problem.

Michele Mosca, a mathematician of the Institute for Quantum Computing, said: “It’s beyond something you can just ignore, even though we still don’t know when it will happen. The chance of it happening in five, 10, or 20 years is not a risk you can accept. It’s a systematic threat to the global economy, and it’s real enough that you definitely have to plan for it now.”

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© iStock/NatalyaBurova

Quantum computing in cybersecurity

The state-of-the-art computing systems, contrary to conventional mechanics, process information on the basis of quantum physics rules which portends an increased capacity in overcoming the existing limits. Quantum computers use “the same physical rules that atoms follow in order to manipulate information,” said Dr Jay Gambetta, the vice president of IBM Quantum. This means that they have a totally different structure and mechanism compared to regular computers. While the latter use 0 and 1 as electrical currents which can be either on or off, quantum computers can run three different combinations simultaneously: 1 state, 0 state, and both 1 and 0 state. This triple combination is called ‘Qubit’ in quantum physics which uses the phenomena of superposition and entanglement that allows a quantum system to be in two different states at the same time.

What is particularly impressive is that they use constructive and destructive interference to process information and find solutions to problems. For instance, if you instruct a regular computer to muddle through a labyrinth, it will try every passage singling them out all individually until it finds the correct path. A quantum computer, on the other hand, can spookily go through passages all at once disregarding a cul-de-sac and bypassing uncertainty. Incorrect paths are completely eradicated by destructive interference and the correct ones are amplified by constructive interference which sends and generates more correct signals. This unique feature of quantum computers allows them to process and calculate multiple combinations at the same time which in turn has a huge impact in tackling real-world problems.

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© iStock/JuSun

 What’s at stake for cybersecurity?

Security Managers at IBM, said: “Large-scale quantum computers will create new opportunities for improving cybersecurity but can also create exposures.” Today’s symmetric and asymmetric encryptions such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and Rivest, Shamir, Adleman (RSA) algorithm depend on difficult mathematical problems that would take ages for classical computers to decrypt. According to some estimates, a classical computer would need more than six quadrillion years to crack a 2048-bit RSA until it efficiently tries all possibilities while a quantum computer can do this in less than eight hours, reports the MIT Technology Review.

Imagine if intelligence adversaries were able to gain access to such a potentially dangerous machine. They would be able to easily hack credit card information, install a software update to your device, forge digital signatures, and basically put all our personal data at risk. Cybersecurity specialists also acknowledge that this could conceivably be politically and militarily sensitive as all public and private networks run on the same encryption methods and could be exposed as a result of the quantum breakthrough.

As the pace of technological advancements continues to take a giant leap forward, we must seek solutions in eclipsing the quantum risk and be quantum-ready for the threats that lay ahead. Since cryptography is vulnerable against quantum computing, cybersecurity specialists need to develop new, harder mathematical problems that would mitigate the risk of decryption in the post-quantum future.

Arrow Kimpel
Guest author

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