“Quantum” is a word that stirs in its wake a litany of questions. No one can deny that the future of computing is to be found in the unique features of quantum mechanics, the branch of physics that studies nature at an infinitely small scale. However, it seems hard to grasp how it could be that the sector that has most to gain from quantum computing is, in fact, the security sector.
What is quantum computing?
Computers currently work in bits. Traditional computing is conditioned by the amount of information that can be contained in these binary chains of zeros and ones. This also implies a limit in computing that sets a series of technological hurdles and some limits on what we can do.
But what if we were to expand this binary limit? Qubits which are the computation unit of these systems, not only consist of two values, but they can use a set of quantum states that include the superposition of this binary.
In other words, qubits can adopt a value to represent 0, 1, and 0 and 1 at the same time, or any quantum superposition of those two qubit states. This is caused exclusively by the characteristics of quantum physics. With appropriate adaptations, it allows a multiplying of the computing capacity to solve certain tasks which would otherwise be impossible to deal with.
What is quantum computing for?
Or rather, can it be used for everything? No; quantum computing isn’t intended to “substitute” current computing. At least, not for now. This is what Mikhail Lukin — co-founder of the Russian Quantum Center and creator of the first 51 qubit quantum computer — explained during last year’s International Conference on Quantum Technologies, ICQT 2017.
Because of the characteristics that grant it its special properties, quantum machines aren’t useful for carrying out many of the everyday tasks that our computers perform. But what they do allow is to do things that until now we thought impossible. Thus, the first quantum computers, just as we saw in ICQT 2017, will be applied to research, in order to process massive amounts of data; and to artificial intelligence, especially in self-driving cars; and, above all, to digital security.
The highest possible security
Are we really looking at impregnable systems? If we take into account the fact that no systems are 100% safe forever, we can’t make such a claim. But if we understand how quantum cryptography works, we can understand why it is so important for the future of security.
Quantum cryptography is a cryptological system that harnesses several of the properties of quantum mechanics to send messages securely. In fact, it’s the safest form that is known of to date.
Firstly, if a third party were to intercept the information during the creation of the secret key, the process would alter itself, meaning that the system would reveal the intruder before any information could be sent.
Secondly, quantum cryptography makes use of another property called entanglement, which can be used to send information safely without a means of transmission. This means that there is no way that a failure in the channel can cause an information leak.
To all of this can be added coding under the most secure conditions ever known due to the incredible processing capacity offered by quantum computing. Because of all this, this is the most promising system to safeguard privacy in the future of communication. A future that is almost upon us.
Quantum cryptography is already here
While it may seem like we still have decades of development before it can be implemented, the fact is that we have already seen several examples of how quantum computing and cryptography can be implemented. For example, during ICQT2017 Lukin announced the first computer with 51 real (not simulated) qubits, the most powerful up to that point. During the same conference, John Martinis, head of the Artificial Intelligence section of Google, explained the company’s plans to develop their own quantum computers.
According to the experts at the conference, in a few years’ time, we will have practical machines that are capable of fulfilling the requisites that will enable these computers to be used commercially. Security in companies will have to be adapted to the new possibilities associated with these super powerful computers.
Because, all of a sudden, passwords won’t be so secure unless we have quantum security measures. This leads us to the second question: quantum cryptography is much more advanced that we thought. In January this year, a joint China-Austria team showed that communication between continents with quantum encryption was possible.
The latest breakthrough achieved by this group consists of combining quantum communication from the Micius satellite with the fiber optic network in Beijing. It is the first practical proof that technology that allows networks to use quantum encryption is already available. How long will it be before we see a commercial application? Probably not long.
While we’re waiting for quantum computing and security to come to the business world, however, we need to continue to make sure we have the strongest measures against cybercriminals: a good security plan and a good security team; efficient tools like Panda Adaptive Defense, which allows us to have absolute control over what happens on the company’s systems and networks. We can even consider including new approaches to security, such as applying chaos engineering to our security plan.