Quantum Computing Threatens Everything — Could it be Worse Than the Apocalypse?
The race to quantum supremacy is on -- will it lead to a utopian society or catastrophic damage?
What is a quantum computer?
A quantum computer is a machine that uses the laws of quantum theory to solve problems made harder by Moore's law (the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years). One example is factoring large numbers. Traditional computers are limited to logical circuits with several tens of transistors, while the number of transistors in a quantum processor may be on the order of one to two million. Meaning, these computers will have exponential power, solving problems that traditional computation can't even identify or create solutions for.
The dangers of a quantum computer
In the near future, quantum computers will be so advanced that they will have the capability to simulate very complicated systems. This could be used for simulations in physics, aerospace engineering, cybersecurity and much more. However, once this computer is built, it has the potential to unravel data encryption protocols. It could also potentially compromise air gaps due to its ability to scan vast distances for nearby networked devices or applications that are open. This means that it can become even simpler for external hackers. They may already have access to your computer or computer system via other avenues, like vulnerabilities in web browsers. They could find it much easier because you're not locking up all the doors.
Quantum computers point to a radically new understanding of computing. An understanding that could eventually be used to unlock problems now thought completely intractable. For now, the field seems ripe with potential. Scientists working on quantum computing call it one of the most interesting theoretical tools in artificial intelligence. Think of it as an incredibly powerful calculator programmed with deep domain expertise. Quantum computers promise answers to all sorts of mathematical, scientific and medical questions humans would never have the guts to tackle otherwise. They promise profound breakthroughs in imaging that will rival even experimental intracellular MRI scans; they may help crack wide-ranging databases that are currently unbreakable or they might pick up scant details like geological signatures warning us about tsunamis long before they happen.
Can quantum computers be reprogrammed?
Quantum computers can theoretically be programmed to solve any complex computational problem. But, the act of programming the computer is so expensive and inflexible that someone would need to program it with all possible solutions. Quantum computers threaten everything. The worst part is that security experts can't ever say for sure what you can do to protect against their programming capabilities. They do know, however, that it's possible to reprogram them just as we would with a normal computer. It's just that the task is so complex and difficult that programming would be such a high-level security risk, it might as well never exist.
What does this all mean? It means we need to develop some sort of encryption technology on our smaller devices so not even those who hold all the world's data can see or access it. Quantum computers work differently than traditional computers. That gives the maker of a quantum computer more control than with a conventional computer. They can do things like reverse time and process large data with greater speed. The manufacturer will program the machine before release, which also comes with certain risks. If they change their mind and reprogram it per client needs, they put themselves at risk for security breaches. The catch is that the cryptography keys are only secure if you keep them secret. The slightest leak — say a pinhole camera across the table from something like a quantum computer or a phone call or email intercepted while being decrypted — would enable an adversary to not just unscramble your message but steal your keys. The threat made by quantum computing has been speculated since before it was even technologically feasible to build a quantum computer. But now that we're nearly there, the situation might be even more dire than you can imagine.
Current safety standards
As quantum computers allow for more efficient algorithms, the dangers of hacking increase. Such security risks have been a top priority at Google. They have high expectations for what approach they will take to create their future quantum machine. In the meantime, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has set out grand challenges for computer science with a hefty $2 million prize. DARPA's goal is to keep U.S. cyber strength relevant amid the rapid decline in Moore's Law and potential loss of global technological leadership. If quantum computers proliferate, they will threaten everything — not just bank records and medical documents, but everything. They represent a security leak so fundamental that it could be worse than the apocalypse. The quantum computer poses a possible threat to the infrastructure of the United States. Yet the American authorities do not have enough measures in place to stop this type of danger. One way that they can defend themselves is by inventing new safety standards that work with the current technologies.
Whenever quantum computing matures, however, it will present a vigorous challenge. Computer scientists will need to develop the protocols and protections necessary to ensure security for this emerging technology. If these precautions are not taken, quantum computing could lead to disastrous outcomes in cyber security. There needs to be a protocol developed to provide security for quantum computers. Hackers will be able to access and disrupt live systems, which calls for an urgent need of advancements in cyber security. These new systems can't just implement existing protection protocols because they're not fully developed yet. The cost of research and development is high and the profits once the product is finished are relatively low.
Quantum computing is a hot topic at this moment in time that will impact society in a way we can't even predict if we don't acknowledge its significance now. Most computers today work in accordance with digital signals. If someone tries to hack the computer, it will change that digital signal into another form or cancel it out, which can be easily noticed. However, quantum computers use quantum bits for calculations. They are tied together in a way that makes them so sensitive to changes in information that they are exponentially more vulnerable to hacks than digital computers. If someone manages to hack a quantum computer — though not yet possible — it would have serious implications for maintaining our safety standards.
How can companies protect themselves from the threat of quantum computers?
If the leaked NSA documents are to be believed, then we may be in for a rude awakening when quantum computers become technologically feasible. These machines will be able to perform calculations in far less time than any conventional computer and render our current encryptions ineffectual. The leaks claim that in 30 years, two medium-sized quantum computers would be able to even break the security of RSA (cryptosystem) — which is currently set at 2048 bits.
Any business that relies on modern cryptography is at risk of being hacked in the near future. But what can companies do to protect themselves? As it turns out, there are some pretty straightforward solutions which firms can preserve (or improve) security amid all this hullabaloo with quantum computing. The authors recommend investing in encryption techniques like Bitcoin, the blockchain and the TLS (Transport Layer Security).
In simple terms, quantum computers process information differently from today's digital computers. This is because of their ability to have bits which sit in more than one state simultaneously, meaning they can perform many calculations at a time. In a future dominated by quantum computing, all regular computing will be made virtually obsolete. Hackers will be able to access the deepest secrets of companies without needing a password. To avoid this fate, companies need to embrace encryption techniques that guard against quantum technology, but they cannot afford to stop innovating too drastically.
The looming potential threat of quantum computing should be taken seriously, but this doesn't mean you should panic. The best way to protect yourself is to plan ahead and think about possible solutions. Incorporating elements of quantum cryptography may not always be possible for every client because of the cost. But, it could help secure an important client who cannot risk future interference in their sensitive operations.
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