Nation Other News 12 Aug 2019 Security implication ...

Security implications of quantum computing

Published Aug 12, 2019, 3:22 am IST
Updated Aug 12, 2019, 3:22 am IST
The present day security, we base on cryptography encrypts messages making use of number theory and prime number multiplication to make them incomprehensible to unauthorised parties.
 The present day security, we base on cryptography encrypts messages making use of number theory and prime number multiplication to make them incomprehensible to unauthorised parties.

The Quantum Computing is the use of quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition and entanglement to perform a computation, while a Quantum Computer is one which performs such a computation, which can theoretically or physically be implemented. Thus, it is the area of study focused on developing computer technology based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature and behaviour of energy and matter at the quantum, atomic or subatomic level.

The quantum world is bizarre, and there are few things to support the claim: quantum computers, unlike the classical ones, can store information as zero or one or the superposition of both. This becomes obvious when we perform a small experiment, in which we take a coin and toss it. We observe that we get either a head or a tail.

This is analogous to the classical computer where information is stored either as a zero or one. Now let's move on to the next section of the experiment, take the coin and spin it. It is very interesting to note that in this case, we cannot predict the state of the coin until it settles down. This event in which both possibilities exist at the same time is called superposition. Another important difference between classical and quantum computers is that quantum computers use the property called spin, unlike the charge used by their counterparts.

The evolution of various emerging technologies like machine learning, deep learning, probabilistic neural networks, Blockchain, etc. requires very high computational speed. This requires supercomputers and some cases even those are slow. Thus, it is imperative that we move on to a technology that provides better speed and various other parameters under consideration. One such a system is a Quantum Computer. This is the very reason for the massive investments made by tech giants.

Thus, quantum mechanics have been suggested since 1980 by eminent scientists like Paul Benioff, Yuri Manin, Richard Feynman and David Deutsch. Several tech giants like IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Google (along with NASA and USRA) have already begun investing huge money in this field. The quantum processor designed by Google called “Bristlecone” (72 - Qubit gate system) recently reclaimed the top spot for world's largest quantum computer processor by dethroning IBM's quantum processor with 50 Qubit gate systems. IBM has launched its quantum computing group called “IBM Q.” The quantum computers are accessible over the cloud. Developers have used this to build a game called “HELLO QUANTUM” which is available in both the App store and Play store for free. We, in India, are still in the nascent stages of this technology.

There is great danger with this technology, as quantum terrorists could bring down the future internet. The malicious actors could exploit the laws of quantum mechanics to destroy quantum information on a global scale. The first computer virus is widely thought to have been a program called Creeper that infected Apple II computers in the early 1980s. It was written by a 15-year-old high school student in 1981 as a prank. Since then, an entire class of malicious software and activities has emerged that can destroy data or eavesdrop on communication. One way to combat eavesdropping is to use the rules of quantum physics to protect data. There is a huge investment in designing and testing a quantum version of the Internet that will prevent eavesdropping and make communication almost perfectly secure. But that raises an interesting question. How might malicious actors attack such a quantum internet?

Neil Johnson at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and his few colleagues have worked out how quantum terrorists could bring the quantum internet to its knees almost instantly and without revealing their identity. More worrying still is that there is no obvious way to counter this new attack.

If quantum terrorists work in unison, an entirely different scenario unfolds. Johnson and others reveal that if several attackers inject their quantum information into the network at the same instant, they can disrupt the global quantum state. In that case, we cannot retrieve the initial state of the system, even in principle.

The shocking conclusion is that it requires only three or more quantum terrorists working in unison. The findings reveal a new form of vulnerability that will enable hostile groups of [three or more] quantum-enabled adversaries to inflict maximal disruption on the global quantum state in such systems,” What's more, these attacks will be practically impossible to detect, since they introduce no identifying information; they require no real-time communication, since the terrorists agree in advance when to attack; and the attack can be over within a second. Just how this kind of attack could be countered isn't entirely clear, although the team has one idea. “A countermeasure could be to embed future quantum technologies within redundant classical networks.”

That apart, there is a lot of work, researchers need to do, before quantum computing becomes mainstream, the existing systems which have so far created have failed to match the hype which it has been generating. Quantum computers contain the potential to perform calculations at a mind-boggling rapidity that may leave the computers of today look like mainframes of yore. In a test carried out by Google and NASA, a developmental quantum computer processed several test algorithms at speeds thirty-five thousand faster than classical computing methods, running off-the-shelf commercial servers. Such computers could solve some world's biggest problems, be it space travel to distant planets including teleportation or cure for the most incurable diseases or rapid evolution of mankind

Intel has recently tested its “Spin Qubit” chip for quantum computing, the smallest chip of its kind. Intel created the chip in Oregon at Intel's “D1D Fab facility,” “using the same silicon manufacturing techniques” the company uses to make tradition computer chips. According to the Intel spin qubit chip's qubits is roughly 50 nanometers across, and one can view them only with the help of an electron microscope. “About 1,500 qubits could fit across the diameter of a single human hair”. Several companies are working on similar chips.

Google is in the race, as are IBM, Microsoft, and a clutch of startups, academic groups, and the Chinese government. The stakes are high.  Goldman Sachs, RBS, Guggenheim Partners and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia have all invested in quantum computing to steal a march on their competitors. Finding an algorithmic advantage to solve a problem can give a company a great competitive advantage. Technology companies, such as “Cambridge Quantum Computing,” “QxBranch” and “Rigetti,” are working hard to develop the hardware and software needed to make quantum computing a reality.

 Google NASA, Lockheed Martin, the US Department of Energy and the University of Southern California have already started using “D-Wave's quantum computing systems.” Quantum computers designed by the researchers so far are all bulky and only work in specialized environments. Therefore, the future of quantum computing may include the adoption of substitutes to the systems being built in innovative laboratories. The ability of quantum computers to try out several permutations and combinations at any point of time brings with it overreaching security implications. The Quantum computers of the future hold the potential to invalidate all the computer security systems in vogue today.

 In the best-selling book “The Da Vinci Code” the hero and heroine to unravel mysterious secrets have to crack one code after another from messages hidden in paintings to picture puzzles to mirror writings. Thrillers like 'The Da Vinci Code' may make us believe that fictional sinister brotherhoods made use of encryption to guard secrets for centuries. But today, a real world criminal brotherhood makes use of the encryption with real sinister and evil motivations of killing innocents or stealing money. Cryptography is a dangerous and powerful weapon in the hands of criminals and the codes. An encryption called Steganography hides small bits of digital information in a code string that translates into a picture on the screen making it difficult for the human eye to distinguish a coded picture from ordinary counterparts.

The present day security, we base on cryptography encrypts messages making use of number theory and prime number multiplication to make them incomprehensible to unauthorised parties. For people to read the encrypted data they either have to brute force it by repeatedly trying different combinations of alpha-numerics repeatedly to crack the password or it compels them to have a mathematical key. When we enter correct passwords, encryption algorithms unlatch the message by changing them into the correct factor.

Today, most hackers don't resort to brute-force attack, instead they depend on the slackly implemented encryption protocols, human errors, keystroke loggers, computer malware, to rob the cryptographic key required to surreptitiously read people's credit card data or banking information. This is because even with a supercomputer a brute force attack would take billions of years to crack the 128-bit AES encryption that is a standard today.

Classical computers can perform only a single calculation at a time, while quantum computers can leverage the nature of quantum mechanics to perform many calculations. Because of this capability, they have the potential to by-pass encryption protocols, enabling the user to access emails and bank accounts of others, assume control of financial markets, tamper and manipulate critical infrastructures, commandeer air-traffic control systems and do a lot of things that can endanger the security of a country.

“Peter Shor” in 1994 at “Bell Labs” developed a quantum algorithm that allowed a quantum computer to factor large integers exponentially much faster than the best known classical algorithm. Shor's discovery can break many of the Public-key cryptography systems in use today. In 2014, according to reports based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) was running a $79.7 million research program titled “Penetrating Hard Targets”, intending to develop a quantum computer capable of breaking vulnerable encryption.

Quantum computers could solve problems that classical computers would take thousands of years to solve in a day. Quantum computers could analyse millions of investment scenarios and arrive at a game plan and help the investor reap a windfall in the long run. Quantum computing could boost profits by helping the investor by being able to predict the US dollar/ British pound sterling swiftly and surely or helping the investor buy surging stocks nanoseconds before the prices go high.

Quantum computers could pose a threat to online security within the next decade. In the early stages, quantum computers may require significant infrastructures, but the gains the criminals will make by undermining existing online security will drive criminals to access such a technology. In a world of cloud computing, this is likely to be possible from the earliest eras of quantum computing.

In the same way we update security software to mitigate new forms of malware, we may have to update encryption libraries if we identify a flaw. Commercial implementations of public key encryption software will be useless in preventing crime, if we do not put them into use. We should encourage those involved in ensuring online security to remain abreast of these developments, as it could see steep changes that alter the threat landscape.

Finally, quantum mechanics help us understand the wave/particle duality and interactions of energy and matter.

(Dr Jayanth K. Murali IPS, is ADGP (Law and Order) Tamil Nadu. He can be contacted at



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