By: Megha Quamara
Information technologies are advancing for more than a century – with the advent of Wireless Communication (in 1880s) and Internet (in 1960s), followed by the arrival of contemporary buzzwords like Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence (AI). All these lie at the heart of the present-day information systems, offering an extensive range of computation and communication-related services. From a user-centric perspective, difficulty to compromise the mathematical algorithms constituting cryptographic techniques via classical computing methods underlies the security of these services. The ultimate idea behind the use of cryptographic algorithms is to obscure information to render it unreadable by its unintended recipients (often known as confidentiality) and tamper-proof (often known as integrity). These algorithms are the pivot of numerous data protection mechanisms, such as identification, authentication, and access control, and in turn depend on key management practices put into place. With industries and other organizations being the source of surge in data generation process, more locations for data storage are becoming part of the digital ecosystem and information sphere. Consequently, the landscape of security issues is also expanding, where we are experiencing an unprecedented level of vulnerabilities. The concept of quantum computing is not behind in this race .
Now the question arises – What is quantum computing? Is it a hypothetical theory shown in movies or documentaries like Interstellar and Particle Fever? Or is it something as powerful as a game changer to address the unsolved problems of computing so far? Researchers describe it as an amalgamation of quantum physical, computer science, and information theory . Unlike classical computing that uses bits (representing zeros or ones) for storing information, it uses quantum bits (also qubits, representing sub-atomic particles) to store information in the quantum form. The notion of quantum computing relies on two fundamental principles – superposition and quantum entanglement. Superposition allows qubits to represent several potential combinations of zeros and ones at the same time. In other terms, any valid quantum state can originate because of the superposition of two or more quantum states. Similarly, entanglement allows two members of a pair of qubits to exist in a single quantum state, also described as lack of independence in simpler terms.
Based on the recent research-oriented advances for quantum computing with a rapidly increasing pace, the research and development community believes that it is a matter of a decade or two for this notion to turn into a reality . The arrival of quantum computers would be a milestone for the human history; nevertheless, tomorrow’s quantum computing is seen as a problem for the security of today’s information systems. Once coming to their full potential, quantum computing techniques would result in the current mathematical algorithms becoming obsolete. This in turn would influence the overall state of communication-related aspects (e.g., privacy, security, etc.) at a global level. Fundamentally, all the applications running over encryption mechanisms are potentially at threat. Finding prime factors of a large number is not within the reach of classical computers or conventional devices, and hence, we are secure today against a range of threats. However, the same can be extrapolated to the future of quantum computing .
When we are not in a state to ensure security against all the known attacks, the question raises for mitigating the unknown threats. In light of this scenario, the time is now to begin encroaching on our brain towards the assurance of security of our data. It is a matter of becoming proactive, with the community envisaging quantum computers to break the foundations of the current cryptographic infrastructures (e.g., public-key cryptography or RSA), where a security patch on an average needs decades to be solved . Despite the trade-offs related to processing time, time-to-market, etc., we need to ensure enough recovery time to address all the patches. There is a need to mobilize the associated stakeholders like data analysts, cyber security experts, etc., to avoid the infrastructure from collapsing. Instead of last minute actions, defense-in-place is needed.
As there are two sides of a coin, we should not merely observe the negative consequences the notion of quantum computing can come up with, but also on how to leverage its strong potential to optimize our computing systems and to solve complex problems in a much more effective and efficient manner. The foreseeable exponential speedup quantum computers are going to offer over classical computers makes them an idea worth spending on . For instance, in light of the current pandemic situation, where nations are striving for vaccinations, the continued research and development in the field of quantum computing may yield fast results in the fabrication of drug discovery procedures, thereby giving next generation of vaccines quickly. The leap of quantum computing is anticipated to embrace several other mainstream applications, as depicted in Figure 1.
With the idea of realization of quantum computing still in its infancy, research community can focus on the following aspects, driven by both fundamental and empirical knowledge to contribute to the further research –
- Identification of the threat drivers  (e.g., software vulnerabilities, hardware attacks) specific to the quantum realm and recognition of technologies or notions (e.g., Blockchain , Machine Learning ) that may be a potential subject of influence by quantum computing.
- Expansion of the algorithmic basis and adoption of notions (e.g., lattice-based cryptography) for the provisioning of quantum computing resistance, with an understanding of the underlying principles that create a point of difference between classical and quantum computing .
- Development of stochastic techniques and programming solutions for the implementation and validation of the properties related to superposition .
- Standardization practices for quantum-safe cryptography towards performance benchmarking of the underlying infrastructure to be involved in computing and communication-related aspects .
It is now defensible that computing and physics cannot be decoupled, and the journey of my discussion on quantum computing does not end here. In my future posts, I would address the following concrete aspects in detail –
- What are the prominent cryptographic mechanisms in use for the security of present-day information systems?
- In what ways, quantum computers pose a threat to these mechanisms and their potential repercussions.
- Are there any solutions available today to mitigate these threats and make information systems security-proof for future?
Stay tuned to Insights2Techinfo for my next post!
- Manin, Y. I. (2000). Classical computing, quantum computing, and Shor’s factoring algorithm. Asterisque-Societe Mathematique De France, 266, 375-404.
- Steane, A. (1998). Quantum computing. Reports on Progress in Physics, 61(2), 117.
- Easttom, W. (2021). Quantum Computing and Cryptography. In Modern Cryptography (pp. 385-390). Springer, Cham.
- Denning, D. E. (2019). Is quantum computing a cybersecurity threat?. American Scientist, 107(2), 83-85.
- Wallden, P., & Kashefi, E. (2019). Cyber security in the quantum era. Communications of the ACM, 62(4), 120-120.
- Raban, Y., & Hauptman, A. (2018). Foresight of cyber security threat drivers and affecting technologies. foresight.
- Fernández-Carames, T. M., & Fraga-Lamas, P. (2020). Towards post-quantum blockchain: A review on blockchain cryptography resistant to quantum computing attacks. IEEE access, 8, 21091-21116.
- Wittek, P. (2014). Quantum machine learning: what quantum computing means to data mining. Academic Press.
- Keplinger, K. (2018). Is quantum computing becoming relevant to cyber-security?. Network Security, 2018(9), 16-19.
- Mosca, M. (2018). Cybersecurity in an era with quantum computers: Will we be ready?.IEEE Security & Privacy, 16(5), 38-41.
Cite this article:
Megha Quamara (2021), Quantum Computing: A Threat for Information Security or Boon to Classical Computing?, Insights2Techinfo, pp. 1