While the IoT (Internet of Things) offers great potential, it also demands that companies make a greater commitment to security to fend off cyber criminals even if that means focusing more attention on advancements in computing power. Connected devices and the IoT offers such immense potential, but they’re not inherently good, just like they’re not inherently bad.
Understanding all these changes is perhaps one of the reasons I have devoted my life to being an advocate for the adoption of technologies that make our lives and businesses better. But more importantly, I have been emphatic about espousing, “With great technology comes great responsibility,” and that means dotting all the “I’s” and crossing all the “T’s” before connecting these devices to our other systems to the cloud.
It’s up to us to apply these technologies in ways that make the world a better place. It’s also up to us to create safeguards that protect ourselves and the people around us from negative applications of devices and technologies.
As we have seen by the myriad of deaths, distracted driving is one negative consequence of the near-ubiquitous use of Internet-connected devices and connected in-vehicle technologies. It’s also the reason cars are much safer today as well.
Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of the IoT in the consumer and enterprise realms has also opened doors for cybercriminals to exploit our connected devices and systems for their own gain. These bad actors are working overtime to find ways to exploit the weaknesses in our systems. As technology advances so too will our computers. As I have stated in earlier columns, we eventually move from conventional computers based on transistors and those require data to be encoded into binary digits called bits to quantum computers.
These quantum computers operate on qubits and can perform on a large number of calculations in parallel, which could result in faster solutions to various computing problems. As time advances, quantum computers will solve computing problems that we haven’t been able to solve, such as complex molecular modeling or other things that today’s classic computers have not been able to solve at all. So for this it will be important to address quantum encryption and what that means for industry.
It’s important to note that McAfee Labs just released its latest threats report, which highlights information about data security that was gathered in the fourth quarter of 2017. So, before addressing the question of quantum computing and how it might impact the cybersecurity landscape, let’s just get a sense of what’s going on in the realm of cybercrime according to the most recent data.
In general, Q4 2017 was characterized by an increase in malware. For instance, on average, McAfee Labs recorded eight new malware samples per second. To give you a benchmark to measure this against, this is an increase from four new malware samples per second in Q3 of last year. That’s double. In 2017, McAfee Labs also reports a 59% increase in ransomware over the previous year, including a 35% increase in just the fourth quarter alone.
One of the biggest trends in cybercrime, according to the threat report is an increase in cryptocurrency hijacking. The interest in this surge hasn’t just been on the part of investors; it’s also been on the part of hackers looking to make a quick buck at others’ expense. Specific to the Internet of Things, McAfee says cybercriminals are still developing botnets exploiting the IoT, and these botnets are mostly being used for DoS, otherwise known as denial of service attacks.
In examining the data security landscape as a whole, it just seems like cybercriminals are getting more and more creative. Which leads most companies to questions if there is an end in sight? So far, the pattern has been this: Beef up your security strategies, forcing cybercriminals’ strategies to get more advanced, which forces you to go back to the drawing board, which forces the bad actors to go back to the drawing board. And it goes on and on. For some companies it feels like the battle of cyber never ends.
Some experts insist this is where quantum computing could disrupt this cycle by creating unbreakable encryption. In this scenario, quantum computers are expected to improve and optimize the way we solve certain types of problems.
Compared to classical computers, a key difference with quantum computing is the way information is stored. Classical computers operate in a black-and-white sort of way, meaning they store a single bit of information as either a 1 or a 0. Quantum computers, on the other hand, use “qubits” (quantum bits), which can exist in multiple states at once—1, 0, or both 1 and 0 at the same time.
Quantum encryption applies the principles of quantum mechanics to encrypt messages in a way that cannot be read by anyone but the intended recipient. If it is intercepted or read by a third party, it will be known by the sender and the intended recipient. This is certainly an interesting proposition with implications.
If this is true, there is a potential here to apply quantum encryption in ways that allow security professional to begin to gain an upper hand over the bad guys. There still is not enough research quantum cryptography yet, but MarketsandMarkets Research does suggest that the market is expected to reach about $943 million by 2022.
This is quite substantial. Progress is certainly being made. At the end of 2017, Chinese researchers completed a practical demonstration of quantum key distribution, which showed it’s possible to encrypt and send data between two locations in a highly secure way. China has spent more than a decade building a fiber-satellite quantum communications network that was able to generate and distribute these cryptographic keys. And the idea is that eventually this will have significant real-world applications.