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Challenges for Cybersecurity in a World of Quantum Computers

In the 2013 documentary Taming the Quantum World (1), physicists in the Canary Islands are working on a project to build a quantum computer by harnessing the mysterious powers of quantum physics.  They hope to create a ‘global quantum internet’ that will instantaneously teleport a humungous amount of data to anywhere in the world, using photons.

Drawing from Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who almost a century ago first understood the world ‘had to be seen in a different way’, the quantum computer would make the present-day internet instantly decodable, and present-day computers almost archaic.

What are quantum computers?

IBM (2) sums up the difference between classical computers as we know them today and the manner in which quantum computers are shaping up.

Today’s computers use the ‘bit’ – the classical computing element (0 and 1). To ensure encryption and decryption, today’s computers use two primary algorithm classes – symmetric and asymmetric.

An example of a Symmetric Algorithm is “The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)” in which the same key is used to encrypt and decrypt data. Supporting three key sizes: 128 bits, 192 bits, and 256 bits, these algorithms typically are used for bulk encryption tasks, such as enciphering major databases, file systems, and object storage.

On the other hand, the Rivest, Shamir, Adelman (RSA) algorithm is an example of an Asymmetric algorithm as it uses two separate keys – the first being a public key used to encrypt the data and a second ‘private’ key that is used to decrypt the data. Slower than its counterpart the AES, the RSA algorithm presently solves the issues related to key distribution and consequent confidentiality and is widely used by commercial applications.

By contrast, quantum computers deal in qubits which are represented by all states of the bit in a state of ‘superposition’ or a state of ‘entanglement’ (6). Drawing on quantum mechanics which is based on the understanding that particles can take on more than one state at the same time and can have their states correlated even when separated by a large distance, quantum computing harnesses these phenomena of quantum physics to process information in a new way.

Where we are

Technologically speaking, quantum computers are currently in the less-than-100 qubit range, with a number of tech giants and governments heavily invested in the race for high-end quantum computing.

Experts feel that we are still a decade away from the first quantum computer, with the potential to offer what Forbes (3) calls the ‘exponential advantage it will confer in terms of transporting huge amounts of data (and not in speeding up conventional computing).’

Challenges to ‘tame the quantum world’ are the reason for the timeline, which many estimate as the year 2030. Notable among these are:

  • Finding fault-tolerant qubits (4) to control the highly volatile state that the qubit assumes. Inherently unstable, a qubit’s iinteraction with its surroundings degrades information in microseconds.
  • Managing the qubit count increase, with a view to controlling the ‘noise’ that is inherent in the increasing count – which in turn calls for complex error correction approaches.
  • Finding a ‘quantum key distribution’ cryptography solution as quantum computing will disrupt the RSA algorithm which presently serves the USD 4 trillion commerce industry.
  • Proactively addressing cybersecurity challenges in a world where current systems become obsolete due to quantum technology.

From an investment point of view, the world (5) is committed to quantum computing. Leading the world is China which announced the funding of a multibillion-dollar quantum computing mega-project with the goal of making important quantum discoveries by 2030, the USA which has pledged a five-year investment of US$1.2 billion in quantum information research, and France which has announced a five-year €1.8 billion spend. Japan, South Korea, Germany, and India are not far behind.

Giant tech companies (6) and a host of smaller ones are also heavily invested. These include Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Honeywell, who deploy quantum computing teams that are partnering with academic collaborators and high-value potential customers.

In terms of market size, the quantum computing market (7) is projected to grow from $712.2 million in 2022 to $4,758.0 million by 2029, at a CAGR of 31.2% in the forecast period 2022-2029. Tractica LLC, a market intelligence firm (8), revealed that spending on quantum computing will surge from US$260 million in 2020, to US$9.1 billion by 2030. Gartner (9) predicts that by 2023, 90% of enterprise quantum computing investments will engage quantum consulting organizations and 20% of organizations will be budgeting for quantum computing projects. Gartner also predicts that the end of the year could see the rise of Quantum Computing as a Service (QCaaS) (13).

 The challenge for cybersecurity

Quantum computing offers many advantages, but cybersecurity experts are concerned that the next generation of quantum computers(10) will have the processing power to easily break classical encryption – the current method used to protect the confidential information of individuals and companies

This would give hackers unlimited control over the internet and the ability to access sensitive information via apps that will all be rendered ineffective and unreliable.

CSO Online (11) says that such elementary tasks as checking emails, accessing your bank account, updating your social media accounts or apps on your smartphone or driving your connected car will be fraught with cybersecurity dangers that create a virtual paradise for threat actors.

Experts are already seized of the dangers of this ‘disruptive’ technology. The US National Institute for Standards and Technologies (NIST) is convinced that in the next twenty years quantum computers will be able to break all presently-used public key encryption schemes. It has already started work on Post-quantum Cryptography (PQC) – a set of cryptographic solutions that can withstand cyberattacks on both present-day and quantum computers. Cryptographic experts are speaking of quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithm families that will ensure post-quantum security resilience (10).

2 years ago IBM (12) reported that its researchers in Zurich had come up with cryptographic solutions that are resistant to the threats posed by quantum computers. Interestingly, the report goes on to state that it is ‘possible to develop quantum-safe cryptography that runs on classical computers, as well.’


Tech giants IBM, Google, Intel and Microsoft etc are welcoming this disruptive change with mega investments. New skill sets like quantum circuit engineers, quantum algorithm experts and applied physics are being pursued as the computing world embraces this path-breaking technology.

Smaller organizations however are literally at the crossroads. Gartner (13) however feels that to adopt a wait-and-watch approach can be detrimental to organizational interest. It advocates that CISOs should view quantum computing as a competitive advantage, and as a way forward to provide innovative approaches to product development, and reduced timelines in marketing and customer delivery.

As the world moves towards adopting quantum computers, it’s almost certain that quantum computing may become the greatest invention of the 21st century, regardless of the approach or the entity involved. However, for the cybersecurity world, it may well be the hardest challenge it has ever confronted.


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