While quantum computers offer many benefits, such as efficiency and more complicated problem solving, one of the biggest benefits that many are looking forward to is an enhancement to cybersecurity. As experts predict that the U.S. will spend around $10 billion on cybersecurity by 2027, this industry will become increasingly relevant. Due to inherent natures, such as superposition or entanglement, quantum computing can provide next-level security, which could suggest big shifts for the computing industry as a whole. Many are also worried that this next-level security could provide more problems than benefits, making the discussion of quantum in cybersecurity a rather heated discussion.
Current Cybersecurity Processes
Cybersecurity simply refers to protecting sensitive information within a digital system from exposure. Many computers are already doing this using encryption practices. Encryption runs on algorithms, and there are two main types of algorithms in classical encryption. One is symmetric encryption, where the same key is used to both encrypt and decrypt data. In contrast, asymmetric encryption uses two different keys, an encryption key (often called a public key) and a decryption key (usually called a private key) to safely share data. As these keys may be made out of random numbers using algorithms, quantum computing teams are hoping to develop a next-generation of these algorithms using specific quantum properties.
A War of Algorithms
Thanks to quantum entanglement, qubits (the core bit of a quantum computer) can be inherently connected. This allows redundancy in information sharing, as more entangled qubits can be sent and reduce the amount of information that is absorbed or degraded. As entanglement is a fragile state, it can be broken or degraded by outside influence. This means that entangled qubits can also degrade if some other source reads them besides the sender or receiver, making the information more secure. Besides entanglement, quantum algorithms can be run to create faster encryption keys using random number generators, as well as solve decryption codes faster. These factors give quantum computers a significant advantage in cybersecurity.
Quantum computers can also run multiple algorithms at one time, making them efficient in encrypting and codebreaking with record speeds. While this technology can have benefits for cybersecurity, many are also worried that if these computers are more widespread, the internet may become less secure as older security algorithms are easily broken by these new computers. One of these individuals is Walid Rjaibi, IBM Distinguished Engineer and Chief Technical Officer for Data Security at IBM. Rjaibi, along with two other authors, wrote an extensive report for IBM about the benefits and risks of quantum computing in cybersecurity. “Like most in the industry, my focus so far has been on addressing the risks quantum computers pose to cybersecurity,” explained Rjaibi. “As you may already know, quantum computers will be able, at some point in the future, to break some of the key cryptographic algorithms in use today such as RSA, Diffie-Hellman, and others. So, lots of work has gone into coming up with alternate algorithms that will be safe even against attacks by malicious entities using quantum computers.” This creates a constant war of algorithms, as algorithms get broken by a quantum computer, and new ones must be made to maintain security. Other companies like QuSecure focus on post-quantum computing cybersecurity. According to a recent QuSecure webinar, Co-Founder and COO of the company, Skip Sanzeri stated: “The threat seems to be getting worse out there.”
Many like Rjaibi are worried that those with these computers may have an advantage in either decoding others’ messages, or encrypting their own messages that few others can read, as quantum computers are currently only used by a select few. To overcome this possible period of inequality, companies like KETS Quantum Security are trying to make this technology more accessible to others using integrated chip technology and flexible architecture for networks. “KETS is developing cutting-edge quantum security technologies that can do specific cryptographic tasks in a provably secure manner,” explained KETS CEO and Co-Founder Chris Erven. “Besides the utmost in security, we are the pioneers of bringing a chip-based approached to these solutions. What this means to customers is that we’ll be able to drive down costs of these systems at scale (a key barrier) as well as develop a variety of different form-factors that are smaller and much more easily integrated (another key barrier).” Systems like these may help lower the cost of this technology and make quantum encryption more widespread.
A Post-Quantum Network
For those looking ahead, past the war of the algorithms to when this technology is more accessible, there are other issues that arise. Mainly, as quantum encryption becomes the next level of cybersecurity, what is the level beyond that? As cybersecurity is an industry that is evolving constantly (mainly between hackers and developers) quantum technology may only be one phase of the evolution but may be the most important phase, shifting the cybersecurity industry into a post-quantum world.
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology.