What The U.S. Investment In Quantum Computing Means For Security

President and CEO of Quantum Xchange. Delivering quantum safety with Post Quantum Cryptographic algorithms and Quantum Key Distribution.

The internet as we know it is no longer safe. Being able to secure it — one way or another — is going to be paramount to business and national interests.

Over the past few months, there has been an uptick in activity on the quantum cryptography front. The good news? The U.S. is finally moving forward with serious government, academic and business backing. The bad news? We may already be too far behind.

In August, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the investment of more than $1 billion over the next five years to five quantum information science (QIS) centers. It’s a joint initiative, with $625 million of the funding coming from the government and $340 million from the private sector and academia. The QIS hubs are charged with bringing together a collaborative team that combines research from multiple institutions and scientific and engineering disciplines to focus on QIS topics like quantum networking, computing and materials manufacturing.

This was on the heels of the July announcement by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the next round of its Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC) Standardization Process candidates, the technologies in the running to be selected as the standard for quantum-based cryptography.

Why Should You Care About Quantum Computing?

There are two main reasons quantum computing should be on your radar screen: big data and security.

According to a 2017 report from IBM, 90% of all the world’s data at the time was created in a two-year period, beginning around 2015. A 2012 IDC report also accurately predicted that the volume of data generated would double every two years to about 40 zettabytes in 2020 and a forecast of 165 zettabytes by 2025. The sheer numbers are astounding.

IDC forecasts that the big data and business analytics software and service spaces will grow to almost $275 billion by 2022, but no computer today — not even cloud-based data centers — can compute the data volumes at that scale with any degree of speed.

That’s why companies like Google, Honeywell and IBM are investing heavily in quantum computing. Quantum computing has the ability to not only compute today’s ever-growing datasets, but it also represents an opportunity to take the lead in quantum-based security.

Unfortunately, the U.S. isn’t leading in the race of quantum superiority.

China has made quantum computing a cornerstone of its last five-year technology plan, and it has been the first to hit key quantum milestones such as a quantum science communications satellite and a quantum-based network that connects Shanghai and Beijing, enabling secure “unhackable” communications between the two centers.

Other countries, notably Japan and South Korea, are also ahead of the American efforts.

But Is The U.S. Approach Really Flawed?

The U.S. may be late out of the starting gate, but the multidimensional approach taken by public and private organizations may ultimately prove successful.

Yes, there are flaws if individual approaches are taken at face value. For example, the NIST standards candidates are heavily weighted toward mathematical algorithms and crystal lattice-based cryptography. However, other mathematics like Shor’s and Grover’s algorithms have been able to break nonquantum encryption technologies. Who’s to say there isn’t another algorithm that won’t be able to break quantum encryption?

The announcement made by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) of the blueprint for a new quantum internet shows the DOE, on the other hand, appears to be going at quantum encryption from the physics side.

Ultimately, there isn’t one security solution that’s going to ever be able to prevent, predict or protect companies’ critical data and other intellectual assets. Having multiple technologies working in concert can allow your defenses to fail in different ways — successfully.

The U.S. may finally be on the right track by focusing on defense in depth on multiple fronts in the battle for quantum security.

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