Opinion

Quantum computing security threats looming over IT industry

The following is a guest article from Scott Totzke, CEO of ISARA Corporation

Visualize your morning commute going catastrophically haywire as hackers take control of every self-driven car on the road, forcing them to speed up or change direction. Imagine global databases of personal financial information exposed as the U.S. Federal Reserve’s encryption system suddenly disappears and every currency exchange is shared.

Cyberattacks like these aren’t science fiction. They may be years away, but with the impending arrival of quantum computing and the security threats it brings, breaches like these can quickly become realities, and sooner than you may think.

Academics and experts agree that a universal quantum computer capable of cracking current cryptography will become available within the next decade. Rather than betting on exact arrival dates, CIOs and business leaders can proactively prepare for the technology’s inevitable impact by understanding potential threats and implementing quantum-ready security solutions that are already available.

Understanding the real need for concern

The arrival of quantum computing has the potential to dramatically change our society and daily lives.

The quantum computers’ ability to process and analyze enormous sets of data, for instance, will solve problems once thought insurmountable, such as curing disease through the creation of customized, designer drugs based on a person’s specific genome. Or possibly designing super-conducting materials to reduce or eliminate energy loss over our power grids, eventually overhauling infrastructure for greater efficiency.

Its inherent capabilities also create extreme risk for security breaches. Quantum computers will be able to solve the complex mathematical problems that we rely on today to protect everything done online, from online banking to using a VPN to connect to a network.

That security goes away the moment there is a quantum computer that can break the encryption in place to protect it.

It’s already here

Experimental quantum computers already exist. Recent announcements by IBM, which revealed plans to build the first commercially available, cloud-based quantum computer, prove that the technology is advancing rapidly.

Governments and other tech giants, such as Microsoft and Google, are also heavily investing in the technology and racing to become the first to launch a commercial, universal quantum computer. They predict that the first will arrive by 2026 or sooner.

Academics concur that there’s a chance that a quantum computer will break most of the security protecting data on the internet by the industry benchmarked 2026. The odds at first glance may seem low, but ignoring the threat is a high-stakes gamble.

It’s understandable to think protecting against threats posed by technology that is not yet a reality is a challenge a successor can handle, rather than tackling the problem today. However, the process of updating and migrating systems to ensure a secure connection — to ensure data and transactions remain safe — is not a quick fix. It’s estimated that the migration will take corporations six to 10 years to complete, and even longer for governments.

Planning for inevitable quantum threats

The advent of quantum computing may be years away, but planning for the security threats it will bring needs to start now.

Technology departments in corporations and government agencies can act by beginning to plan and implement quantum computer-resistant products into existing conventional computers, commercial products and networks.  Quantum-safe security solutions that are already available can make vulnerable hardware and software compliant with developing quantum safe standards. 

Filed Under: Infrastructure
Top image credit: Whrelf Siemens