By Paul F. Renda, E-mail: [email protected]
Okay, so what is quantum computing? It is the next integration in the evolution of computing science. It’s like comparing a 1970s Casio calculator to a supercomputer used today. You do not have to understand the technology behind quantum computing; you just have to understand its potential.
In order to talk about the threat of quantum computing, we should first introduce some other topics. Today, the main encryption standard is called the RSA. This encryption standard was developed by the complexity of the factory prime numbers, which refers to very large prime numbers. The RSA (Rivest Shamir Adleman) algorithm was developed back in 1978 and it covers most, if not all, of the commerce in the world.
In 1985, a British physicist named David Deutsch first proposed a quantum computer machine that operates on the principles of quantum mechanics. In 1994, computer scientist Peter Sure developed a theoretical model through which quantum computers could find the factors of large prime numbers easily and break the RSA. Again, we must remember that encryption is based on prime numbers.
In 1994, there was no computer hardware that could possibly test this theoretical idea of the potential of quantum computers to break the RSA encryption. The company D wave built a quantum computer. China had already launched a satellite that used quantum computing and a “site dedicated to quantum computing”. Google, IBM, and NSA are already working on quantum computers. By far, it seems that China is in the lead.
A paper was written by a scientist claiming that, with a little tweaking, the RSA can be saved from quantum computers. This computer scientist proposed that if they use a key of terabyte with a size that is trillions of bits, it would be impossible to break the RSA. However, one problem is that systems that I administrate the keys for are 2024 and 4048 bits. There is no machine I know of that can take a million bits key, as opposed to trying trillions of bits. Again, this is a theoretical paper.
China and D wave have already built quantum computers. Some experts believe that the advent of quantum computers will not be here before 25 to 30 years. To me, the advent of quantum computers is here, now.
Okay, now that we have talked about the potential of quantum computing, let’s talk about how to weaponize it.
On the Internet, there are a lot of low hanging fruits, systems that can be easily compromised. There are also many systems that have some poorly configured encryptions. Some systems may be system-controlled and data acquisition, or other such processes of system control. Hacking is happening on a daily basis. However, quantum computing, that can break the RSA, will multiply greatly if not exponential daily hacking. A number of times, hackers conduct scans of the Internet to find these low hanging fruits. Can hackers/terrorists attain control over quantum computers? Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but maybe in 3 to 5 years?
If a country develops its capabilities in quantum computing and does public demonstrations of breaking the infrastructure, it could become a real power. It could basically intimidate or be able to extort from other countries. They would be getting favorable trade agreements and tariffs. Basically, it could become a superpower without firing a shot.
In New York City, the L train was converted from an electromechanical system to a solid-state control system, which basically controls how far apart the trains are. Electromechanical systems are impervious to any type of digital hacking. Train control systems that are on the internet using RSA can be vulnerable. It may be possible to hack a train system with quantum computers. Train crashes would make the public averse to using public transportation. This will be the ultimate form of terrorism.
Quantum computing can make nuclear warfare obsolete. Nuclear weapons are tangible objects, that is they are a bomber, submarine, or an ICBM that can be destroyed by conventional weapons. They can also be detected by radar, sonar, and satellite pictures. Quantum computers have no such properties of detection. You would not be able to destroy a quantum computing infrastructure. In short, they can continue to destroy your infrastructure – not by bombs, but by breaking encryption codes and system encryptions.
The reason why I have not mentioned the financial infrastructure is that such an infrastructure is so well-connected globally that bringing down one system in New York might have an effect of bringing down something in Peking or Japan.
The question that is now proposed is are there any counter-measures for quantum computers going against the infrastructure? One possible solution is to change the encryption keys every single day. The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) should be involved in finding a solution to this problem. Can you imagine the circumstances of the electric power, the telephone system, cable systems and any other infrastructure that is vital to the operation of any city, going down?
This is a living document. I will update it as soon as more information becomes available.
About the author:
Paul is an inventor and a futurist. He has spoken twice at Defcon and twice at HOPE (Hope Hackers On Planet Earth). In 1995 Paul was first person to come up with a defense against war dialers. A war dialer is a device that scans telephone numbers looking for modems this is done to possibly break into a computer system. He’s been active in information security for the past 45 years