The era of quantum computers has arrived.
This isn’t just another “next step” of computing… The application of emerging quantum computing tech in the cybersecurity industry will result in arguably the most significant disruption the world has ever seen.
It could change healthcare by revolutionizing the creation of more effective medicines and vaccines.
It could change the environment by significantly decreasing energy consumption and waste.
It could save lives that would otherwise be lost in natural disasters by facilitating the creation of extremely accurate weather forecasting.
And it could change the face of cybersecurity by obsoleting modern cryptography.
Just how can a new evolution of computing do all this? Through the strange world of quantum mechanics.
How Quantum Mechanics Have Evolved Our Thinking
We all know the story of Schrödinger’s cat – it exists as both dead and alive inside a box until someone opens said box. If that sounds confusing, you’re not alone – the same quandary provoked the most brilliant minds in the universe nearly 100 years ago during the fifth Solvay Conference.
Nobel Prize winning minds such as Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, and many more, gathered to debate the most preeminent problems in the worlds of physics and chemistry. At this particular conference, the prizefight concerned a controversial theory that defied common sense. Back then, the world as most people knew it was dictated by Newtonian mechanics – the school of thought derived from Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Newtonian mechanics is, at its core, the body of physical law that emerged in the 1600s with Isaac Newton. According to Newton, objects have positions and speeds, of which they are acted upon by forces. The central tenant of Newtonian mechanics is that objects move in smooth, orderly, and predictable patterns. These are the laws that govern the physical dimension we know, see, and interact with each day.
It has defined our reality for so long that it is nearly impossible to imagine a world where any other system of mechanics could be possible at the macro level. And with it come centuries of developing, testing, and validating these classical laws of the physical world.
That all changed in 1894, when physicist Max Planck took a gig in which he would investigate the quality of heat, energy, and light within light bulbs. During his experiments, Planck noticed that as the filament of the bulb heats up, its color changes, going from red to yellow to white. Planck wondered why the filament did not turn blue as more heat energy was applied. He then assumed energy is not delivered in a continuous wave, but in packets. Packets he called “quanta,” which are mathematically proportional to a given frequency. This breakthrough led to a Nobel Prize as it described a new theory of physics: “quantum mechanics.”
Then, in 1897, J.J. Thomson identified a subatomic particle now known as an electron. This discovery turned the world upside down. If you think of Newtonian mechanics governing common, everyday scenarios, you’d imagine how objects should move and how objects should interact with one another.
For example, at a construction site, a wrecking ball colliding with a brick wall should result in the wall’s destruction. At the classical mechanical level, the space occupied by the brick wall cannot simultaneously be occupied by the wrecking ball.
But shrink our construction site down to the size of an atom and look at this from the quantum level. Here, the wrecking ball does not destroy the wall… it “quantum tunnels” through it and back again! Both the wrecking ball and the brick wall are intact.
Oh, it gets weird. But it’s real.
Enter Einstein, whose 1905 paper on the quantum mechanics of the photoelectric effect proposed that certain wavelengths require specific amounts of energy to release electron packets, called photons. This cemented the theory pioneered by Planck that light energy is released in wave packets. If the heat applied to the wavelength does not match this exact energy requirement, no photons are released.
This led to the double-slit experiment, where large objects are fired through two slits – one on the left and one on the right – into a wall behind the slits. Not all the objects fired through the left slit make it through to the wall. Some collide with the edges and are rejected – classical mechanics in action – and fall to the ground. Those that do make it through will hit the wall on the other side, forming a slit-shaped pattern on the wall’s left side. On the right side, the same thing happens.
Now, let’s reiterate this experiment in the quantum world and shrink this experiment down. Instead of large objects, we’re now firing electrons. And rather than getting the same results as in the Newtonian world, where we see two slit-shaped bands aligned with the two openings, we get five bands aligned on the back wall.
So what happened? Probability.
In quantum mechanics, each slit-shaped band on the back wall represents a potential outcome, rather than a Newtonian outcome.
The next few years were ones of rigorous academic study and debate, where the world’s foremost thinkers challenged the limits of their intellect in a back-and-forth of academic papers.
“God does not play dice with the universe,” said Einstein. To which Niels Bohr shot back, “stop telling god what to do.”
But despite this evolution in technology, the world mostly remained governed by Newtonian physics. Only today, nearly a century after quantum mechanics stumped Einstein, are we finally on the tipping point of using quantum mechanics to revolutionize everything.
But how exactly will quantum mechanics change the way we secure our collective online presence?
The Quantum Revolution Arrives
Through quantum mechanics, the world’s biggest technology companies are building quantum computers that obsolete today’s most advanced supercomputers. How? Because they turn binarily stored data into a more powerful form, known as qubits, which can be both “1″ and “0” data stores simultaneously. This makes them extremely valuable in modern day technology, like in artificial intelligence (AI) programs that need exponentially greater processing speeds for tasks such as facial recognition software or voice transcription services.
The potential for quantum computing is almost limitless. Scientists have only just begun exploring its capabilities, but it’s clear that this technology will shift our understanding of how information can be stored and processed in ways we never thought possible before. Imagine being able to run any amount of data you want with ease – even computationally demanding tasks your current computer struggles through.
Therefore, the potential for quantum computing to revolutionize how we process information is massive. With their ability to perform tasks at incredibly fast speeds or generate complex results with pinpoint accuracy, even the most security-illiterate individuals could hack into the world’s most secure networks with ease.
Which means we will need to rethink cybersecurity from the ground up.
And we’re currently right at the doorstep of quantum computing becoming ubiquitous. For example, Google’s Sycamore achieved quantum supremacy in 2019. Amazon, too, is heading into quantum computing with Braket, forging Quantum-Computing-as-a-Service (QCaaS).
It’s very exciting stuff. But with the emergence of quantum computing comes a huge security problem that threatens to obsolete modern cryptography and expose all our online data. And within five to 10 years, everything that you think is safe will be compromised.
How to Combat the Quantum Threat
Today, cybersecurity is primarily based on asymmetric encryption, built on top of mathematical cryptography. Computers based on Newtonian mechanics are not capable enough to quickly break that mathematical cryptography. However, quantum computers are capable. And as a result, the world’s current cybersecurity systems will be made obsolete.
This is what’s known in the industry as the “Quantum Threat.” And it’s coming. But while many computer scientists believed that the quantum threat was 15-plus years away as recently as 2019, rapid advancements in quantum computing have most pegging the quantum threat to arrive between 2025 and 2030.
That means investment in modernizing today’s encryption methods needs to start now because overhauling the world’s cybersecurity system will take time. And to be ready for the quantum threat, governments and companies need to develop new quantum-safe cryptography today.
There are dozens of companies across the world working on this quantum-safe cryptography today. One such company is Arqit, which has developed the best quantum-safe method in existence to date.
Arqit’s solution involves placing a tiny quantum computer on a constellation of satellites in orbit. The satellites transmit quantumly encrypted (and unbreakable) special keys into datacenters around the world. In-house software then distributes those keys to end-point devices, like phones and laptops. The result is a provably secure ecosystem protected by unbreakable quantum encryption.
To be clear, that is a gross oversimplification of what Arqit does. But it’s sufficient in describing exactly how cybersecurity systems might change in the wake of the quantum threat.
A terrestrial version of Arqit’s technology is commercially available today in a very limited capacity. In 2023, the company intends to launch two quantum satellites into space aboard a Virgin Orbit rocket, at which point it will begin full-scale commercial operations.
As with any new breakthrough technology, investment in quantum encryption technologies to expand rapidly. This is the next evolution – and arguably the final destination – of cybersecurity. The quantum threat, however, is likely still more than five years away.
Giving us at least some time to get our collective shit together.
About Version 2 Limited
Version 2 Limited is one of the most dynamic IT companies in Asia. The company develops and distributes IT products for Internet and IP-based networks, including communication systems, Internet software, security, network, and media products. Through an extensive network of channels, point of sales, resellers, and partnership companies, Version 2 Limited offers quality products and services which are highly acclaimed in the market. Its customers cover a wide spectrum which include Global 1000 enterprises, regional listed companies, public utilities, Government, a vast number of successful SMEs, and consumers in various Asian cities.
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