Where would we be without computers? Whether giving us the chance to work remotely, work on files with colleagues in real time, or for recreational activities like streaming – there can be no doubt that computing devices have changed the way we go about our day-to-day lives.
However, while more ‘traditional’ computers are great for completing run-of-the-mill tasks, there are many more complex problems in the world that these machines will struggle to solve. For problems above a certain size and complexity, traditional machines simply don’t have enough computational power to tackle them. To put this in perspective, Fugaku, the world’s fastest supercomputer is over 1,000 times faster than a regular computer, and, in 2019 Google claimed its Sycamore quantum processor was more than a billion times faster at solving problems than a supercomputer.
Given their processing superiority, if we want to have a chance at solving some of the world’s most complex issues, we must look to quantum computers.
Understanding Quantum Computing
In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, quantum computing leverages the substantial mechanics principles of superposition and entanglement in order to create states that scale exponentially with the number of quantum bits – or ‘qubits’. Rather than just being on or off, qubits can also be in what’s called ‘superposition’ – where they’re both on and off at the same time, or somewhere on a spectrum between the two.
Put more simply, for scientists to properly simulate scientific situations, the calculations they make on a computer must be able to handle uncertainty in the way that traditional, and even supercomputers can’t. This is the key characteristic of quantum computing.
Today, real quantum processors are used by researchers from all over the world to test out algorithms for applications in a variety of fields. Indeed, these computers may soon be able to spur the development of new breakthroughs in science, medication for currently incurable diseases, discovering materials to make more efficient devices and structures like more powerful solar panels as well as creating algorithms to quickly direct resources to where they are needed, such as ambulances.
Quantum Computing and Cybersecurity
However, not only do these machines have to be protected from hackers, they themselves could also pose a threat to digital life as we know it.
Right now, for example, cyberattacks can be carried out with relative ease, due to the fact many organisations do not have protections in place for their confidential information. As such, placing a much greater emphasis on improving the security of communications and data storage is crucial for guaranteeing the protection of sensitive information for states, private entities and individuals, than say 20 years ago. However, if quantum computers can launch attacks that break asymmetric cryptography, they then render the entire PKI-based encryption method we currently use to protect our sensitive information, obsolete. Which begs the question: Then what?
To take advantage of the time quantum computers will be able to break such systems, some countries are already beginning to collect encrypted foreign communications, with the expectation that they will be able to extract valuable secrets from that data in the future. Indeed, countries need to be aware that when quantum cryptanalysis does become available, it will significantly affect international relations by making any broadcast communications in the state open to decryption. For countries that extensively rely on encryption to secure military operations, diplomatic correspondence or other sensitive data, this could be a watershed event.
As quantum computers continue to improve, businesses and the general public will become increasingly aware of the threat cryptographic systems pose to all digital security globally. The ability to update cryptographic algorithms, keys and certificates quickly in response to advances in cracking techniques and processing speed will therefore be key.
To prepare for these inevitable cryptographic updates, more enterprises than ever will need to explore automation as a critical component for ensuring future-proofed security. Quantum resistant communication technology will soon be an inevitable part of cybersecurity mitigation.
Business and technology strategists must monitor progress on the evolution and potential implications of quantum computing starting now. Confidential data, over-the-air software updates, identity management systems, connected devices, and anything else with long-term security obligations must be made quantum safe before large quantum computers are developed and are reliable, meaning their error rates are low.
We have announced collaborations with ISARA Corporation and ID Quantique to make quantum-safe crypto more widely available for data protection in the cloud, applications and networks. Innovations like these can help combat the future security threats of quantum computing. With governments and organisations, such as NIST, racing to become cryptographically quantum resilient, readying enterprises for this change has never been more important.