Technology Insights

Quantum computing and national security

Quantum computing and national security

Quantum computing is revolutionising computer power; along with its many benefits for propelling our digital future and bringing the requisite power that computing will need, it does bring with it multiple enhanced threats to our current and future national and cyber infrastructure, which are already under pressure from many rogue actors.

What is quantum computing?

In short, quantum computers are new machines that utilise quantum principles to process specific complex problems exponentially more quickly than existing conventional computers. These computers will help solve complex mathematical and scientific problems as well as helping to build simulations necessary to advance high tech sciences such as medicine, engineering and artificial intelligence.

There is currently vast investment in quantum computing  –  the global big tech giants are investing 10s if not 100s of millions of dollars annually into quantum research – Google has reportedly now created a quantum computer that can solve specialized problems that would stump even the best classical computer — a landmark known as ‘quantum supremacy’.

Why is it relevant to national security?

Within a national security context, the processing power that it could lend to applications such as code breaking, code development, and complex data analysis are enormous. An Artificial Intelligence application, could for example build far more sophisticated models for targeted supply chains, logistics, or large crowd management at national events – the optimisation quantum computing could offer, including the threat modelling to counter any potential terrorist threat and thereby any necessary action and reaction to help prevent major incidents are sizeable.

Along with all these potential benefits of course come potential threats to our national infrastructure. Quantum computers will in the near future be able to compute complex problems so quickly that some forms of encryption can be broken relatively easily. For even the largest classical computers, such problems with exceptionally large crypto keys could take many years to solve. However, because of the power that the quantum computer brings – such an encryption could be broken within hours. Therefore, there are significant problems that governments, national security agencies as well as private enterprises responsible for protecting private data must confront with the advent of the quantum computer, problems that will only be solved through changes in the way organisations work, and how they better embrace and exploit innovative technology.

How can we protect against this?

Symmetric encryption for a government’s most sensitive secrets are one method to protect against quantum attacks – mathematicians and cryptographers are working hard on algorithms that should provide a far higher level of protection against this type of threat.

On top of this further measures should be put in place:

  1. Practice good cybersecurity. Whatever capabilities quantum computers may have in the future, a rogue actor cannot decrypt what they don’t have. Ensuring best cyber security practice, keeping systems patched and strong encryption are all activities that are required now and in the future quantum world
  2. Know your systems and your data. How is your data stored and how is it secured? How can existing systems support and manage necessary safeguards without overloading your existing infrastructure?
  3. Keep on top of the research and developments. This is a new but rapidly evolving space and it is imperative that an active engagement is maintained with the academic institutions and research initiatives that are underway, as well as the advances the big tech giants continue to make with their huge quantum investment programmes.

Quantum computing, whilst being in its relative infancy, is a massive area of investment for public and private capital because of the overall benefits that it will ultimately bring to society as a whole. This does bring with it a potentially more powerful threat, however with the right strategy, any agency or government can plan to mitigate any potential threat from quantum risks.

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