Impacts of Quantum Computing in Cyberspace Operations
By CW4 Adam D. Crenshaw
December 11, 2019
Quantum computing is a game-changing technology that will shift the scope of cyberspace operations and in turn; multiple commerce markets, world governments, and military communities. The advancement of quantum computing will reform the foundational applications that traditional computing models have maintained. As this technology continues to emerge, it will become a disruptor in both public and private sectors. Therefore it is imperative that these entities devote the appropriate attention and resources to quantum computing research and development.
Current cryptologists are estimating that there is a twenty-five percent chance of breaking RSA-2048 encryption by the year 2026 and a fifty percent chance by 2031.
The concept of quantum computing has been around for some time. In 1982 the physicist Richard Feynman theorized that quantum computers will have the capacity to combine the irregular properties of quantum physics with computer science to achieve processing power that is exponentially more powerful than traditional computers. Traditional computing systems conduct operations using binary ‘bits’ that utilize a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ to represent a specific state. An example of this is that a ‘1’ represents an ‘on’ state and a ‘0’ would alternatively equal an ‘off’ state. In contrast, quantum computing utilizes bits in a quantum state, these are known as ‘qubits’. This is a principle known as quantum superposition and entanglement, these qubits can have a value of ‘0’, ‘1’, or both ‘0 and 1’ at the same time. With these processes, complex problems are able to be computed at a fraction of the speed that are currently use by traditional binary systems. Utilizing qubits allows for the ability to scale exponentially. For instance, if a quantum computer used a two qubit unit, it will compute four calculations at the same time. Just as three qubit capabilities can do eight calculations, and a four qubit machine will provide sixteen calculations, all simultaneously. In terms of comparison, utilizing 300 qubits, it is possible to compute more calculations than there are atoms in the universe.
In recent events, Google has reported to have obtained quantum supremacy. This is a state in which they have been able to use a quantum computer to perform a single calculation that a traditional binary computer, not even the world’s largest supercomputers, could perform in a feasible time frame. In this specific event, using 53 qubits, researchers were able to use quantum computing to perform a complex mathematical calculation in three minutes and twenty seconds. Comparatively, it would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer about 10,000 years to perform the same calculation.
It is important to understand that while quantum computing will provide increased calculating efficiency, the impact will only have a major effect for a limited set of problems. Essentially, quantum innovations will not provide a magic solution for all conventional computing. However, the limited subset of problems it does solve will have profound impacts within the industry. An example of this can be seen in analyzing what is known as Simon's Problem using Simon’s algorithm. This is a computational problem dealing with the complexity of decision trees. Without going into the nuances of the algorithm, implementing it has proved that the use of quantum computing is exponentially faster than traditional computing algorithms. Other use cases for quantum computing can be observed using Shor’s algorithm and Grover’s algorithm. Shor’s algorithm is used in finding the prime factors of numbers. The application of this quantum algorithm can be used to break common cryptography cyphers. Grover’s algorithm uses its quantum calculations to search with high accuracy within unique and unstructured datasets. These algorithms, coupled with technology are driving the impacts that quantum computing is having in the industry.
The biggest impact that quantum computing has is the ability to commence multiple and simultaneous calculations. This makes them optimized for use in cyberspace. One of the essential pillars of cyberspace operations is cryptography. Obtaining competencies in cryptography would establish strong advantages. Many of the tools we utilize in cryptography rely on computational conventions, such as how difficult it is in factoring 2048 bit numbers. Traditionally these cyphers are broken based on increased computing power. That begs the question of how long will it take a quantum computer to break the currently deployed public-key cryptography tools? Current cryptologists are estimating that there is a twenty-five percent chance of breaking RSA-2048 encryption by the year 2026 and a fifty percent chance by 2031.
The capability to thwart normal security operations will make quantum computers an asset for all organizations. Many intelligence agencies are believed to be intercepting traffic that cannot yet be decrypted, but with the advent of quantum computing they may be vulnerable in the future. New developments will soon threaten highly sensitive information. Specifically, the National Security Agency (NSA) has reported challenges pertaining to the defensive postures quantum computing will bring to the United States. Other U.S. government agencies have also recognized the disruption this technology will have.
World governments have already begun designating resources to further research and development of quantum computing. In 2017 the Australian Government announced their strategy to invest $26 million to further quantum computing development as part of their nations National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA). These efforts accentuates that quantum computing is a significant area for innovation and will play a pivotal role in future defense and security measures. NISA believes that the most convincing impact of quantum computing technology is its ‘distribution functions’ that will use its powerful mechanisms for cryptographic key management. Specifically, Australia’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology is concentrated on providing global studies to develop full-scale quantum systems. These systems will encompass the ultra-fast quantum computation, secure quantum communication and distributed quantum information processing.
Much like Australia, other nations are investing significant resources into quantum computing. In 2018 the Under Secretary of Defense identified that quantum computing is among the Pentagon’s high priority research and development investments. Also in 2018, the United States signed H.R. 6227 that funds the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQI) and published its National Strategic Overview for Quantum Information Science. This law and publication authorizes investments into quantum sciences over the next five years totaling $1.2 billion. The U.S. Department of Energy has begun to search for specialists to assist in directing other agencies through the intricacies of this developing technology. These experts will be part of the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee. This is a panel that is mandated directly by the President of the United States. This new regulation has also instructed the National Science Foundation develop five institutions that will produce specific training for people to work in quantum computing. These organizations will support qualified engineers to shift into careers that will require quantum computing capabilities. Although this is a positive action, it is small in comparison to the investments of other nations.
China has identified that the strategic value that quantum technologies can enhance both military and economic progression. The quantum ambitions of China align with their national strategy of becoming a superpower in science and technology. China has committed to building a $10 billion National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences that will be functional in 2020, and is intended to have significant advances by 2030. The University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) has directed efforts to build a nationwide quantum communications network. At a recent conference, China’s leading experts in quantum computing addressed a panel from the United Nations and explained how this network will provide absolute security in transmitting data that would be unhackable and resistant to surveillance.
The advent of quantum computing is inevitable. The assimilation of quantum computing presently signifies one of the most disruptive innovations for the armed forces in years. It is still unpredictable to see how impactful this technology will be. Unlike the development of weapons, there are many academic and commercial applications for it in commercial cyberspace. This technology is expected to eventually have extensive effects for military forces, intelligence services and law-enforcement agencies. Given this breakdown, it is unclear how far it will alter the traditional balance of power among states, or between states and non-state actors.
Quantum computing will offer several opportunities, but they are too unclear at this stage to understand how they will evolve. Consequently with these new innovations it is necessary to produce a new generation of technologist that have an understanding of how traditional computing works, and will be able to couple those concepts with quantum capabilities. In its current state quantum computing will be used as an alternative technology that will be able to solve some problems that current computers cannot. It is also possible that the expansion and development of quantum technologies will decrease the proportional advantage of some nation states. As this new field transitions from academic to industrial innovations, more supporting quantum computing infrastructure roles will be developed. There will be further expansions in hardware, algorithms, and other software based advances that will come into fruition. There is still many more iterations of maturity that this technology will go through before it is a true innovation. Overall quantum computing will be a leader in advances that can benefit society at large. However, like most innovations, the more radical the technology comes an even greater disruption.
About the Author
Adam has built his twenty-year career as an industrious and forward-thinking professional, with extensive experience in aligning strategic information technology and security functions with business needs. He is a Multi-certified and business security-oriented leader with years of experience in leading global information security departments. He holds a Graduate degree from the University of Utah and possesses several industry standard certifications. Adam also serves on various boards and maintains membership with several technology sharing organizations. He is a member of the Utah Army National Guard.