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Cybersecurity Threats of Quantum Computing

By Jude Braithwaite


Quantum Computing (QC) is the most dangerous threat to cybersecurity that the world doesn't know about yet. As the advancements of technology continue to push the world forward in many positive ways, there are also drawbacks to these ameliorations that pose security risks to all sovereign states. The emergence of quantum computing poses significant challenges to every nation as all forms of current cybersecurity measures will be ineffectual when the technology is fully developed.

Quantum computing is a modern phenomenon that uses quantum mechanics and quantum physics in order to find answers to some of the world's most complex issues. IBM, a leader in the development of quantum computing, explains the significant difference between a quantum computer and a supercomputer (the current generation of computers): When in the process of solving a problem, super computers can only access one combination at a time, while quantum computers, “can create vast multidimensional spaces in which to represent these very large problems. Classical supercomputers cannot do this”. The analogy used by IBM to describe the efficiency levels quantum computing will be capable of is as follows: Imagine having to seat 10 people in 10 chairs but there is only one correct order in which they must sit. There are just over 3 million possible combinations of how these ten people could sit. Supercomputers have to analyze each individual sequence, while a quantum computer could analyze all at the same time, and solve the issue in seconds. When this technology is applied to decrypting government security measures the result could be devastating.

Fortunately the current threat that quantum computing poses is still a hypothetical one. When this technology does eventually develop, the most significant aspect of this new computer will be Grover's algorithm, which will substantially decrease the amount of time required to decode and bypass security measures. In 2016, the Russian government successfully orchestrated an effort to interfere in the US Presidential election, which eventually led to Donald Trump claiming victory. In recent times this is seen as the most controversial example of foreign intervention within the United States. Russia hacked and broke into US government systems in order to interfere with a democratic election. The Russian attack was conducted using supercomputers. Had Russian made a similar effort at interference but with QCs, the result could have been even more damaging. In the hands of an adversary, quantum computing could be used to wage cyberwarfare all over the globe. Examples like the Russian interference in 2016 are minor examples of what states will be capable of if they wish to influence international politics. The Harvard Business Review concluded that “With quantum computing, however, cracking encryption becomes much easier, which poses a threat to data security”. National governments, regardless of size, are predisposed to the incoming threat.

The increasing risk facing the national security of the United States is evident and the remaining options are simple: adapt or remain susceptible to cyber attacks. Prior history has already shown the vulnerability of the US government to outside influence during the 2016 election, and that attack was dealt through supercomputers. The threat of China or Russia developing this technology before the United States leaves the U.S. vulnerable to attack. Everyone from small businesses to the national governments will need to take the correct precautions in order to remain safe. Releasing data will be easier and faster than ever before. The recent controversy surrounding the Pandora Papers is just one example of a way in which QC could access information and release it to the general public. Secrets may not be secrets for much longer.

The most effective form of control over QC would be for the United States to take a direct stance against the general population obtaining such technology. The entire global approach to cybersecurity now needs rethinking, and transformed into a solid barrier that can now deal with this new threat. The global community needs to have a framework where they can hold one another accountable for the use of such technology. Just as the Nonproliferation Treaty was signed in 1968 to prevent the spread of nuclear arms across the globe, this world order needs similar stability with QC. Comparatively there is a critical need for a similar treaty. In addition, to solve the issue domestically, comprehensive regulations on quantum computing that prevent private entities from obtaining this technology should be passed. With the emergence of the cyber world, threats are no longer physical, they can come from anywhere at any time. By regulating this technology, we can control who has access to it in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of any opposition. This will also ensure that the technology never falls into the hands of extremists who would threaten the national security of the US, and can shift the focus to prioritizing the threats that could arise from foreign adversaries instead.

Going forward, the main objective for US policymakers should be to understand the potent threat QC poses and develop a regulatory regime capable of preventing its proliferation into the hands of those who would do us harm. Quantum Computing, despite all the positive outcomes it can have on society, can still be a devastating weapon if developed by those who wish to undermine a democratic system. As the technology is still in the development stage, there is still time that can be used strengthening existing cyber security networks. There needs to be global action taken before QC is fully developed, as by that time the world will no longer be in a position to defend itself.


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