In October last year, Chinese scientists announced the world’s fastest programmable quantum computer, a million times more powerful than Google’s most advanced supercomputer. Their technology can complete in milliseconds the math operations that would take a typical computer about 30,000 billion years to perform.
And America is finally paying attention.
Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden signed two documents — an executive order and a National Security Memorandum — to strengthen the nation’s quantum capabilities offensive and defensive. That means developing your own quantum computing technology and protecting critical IT infrastructure from enemy quantum attacks. Because it is necessary to prepare for a quantum cyber attack that could render all passwords and computer devices useless, from the iPhone in your pocket to the GPS system on the plane, even the supercomputers. computers that process stock market transactions. At that time, the national security consequences will be enormous.
Quantum computing, a form of high-speed computation at the subatomic level carried out at extremely cold temperatures, will bring computers to speeds unimaginable today. Atoms, photons and electrons operate outside the laws of classical physics and in the “quantum” realm can be harnessed for extraordinary computing power. Complex problems that once took years to solve can now take seconds to solve.
And that means everything we know about cybersecurity – any lock secured with current encryption methods – is exploitable.
Think of coding like a math problem. Using modern 256-bit encryption, you have 78-digit combinations, arranging them in the correct sequence in order to crack the digital key. And the number of possible combinations is: 115,792,089,237,316,195,423,570,985,008,687,907,853,269,984,665,640,564,039,457,584,007,913,129,639,936. Today’s common hardware and software, using bits, would take millions of years to sort out and try out so many combinations. But quantum bits — or qubits — can be used in parallel to exponentially speed up computers’ ability to solve algorithms that were once thought impossible.
A centralized government response is essential, but more comprehensive and far-reaching approaches will be needed. For example, encouraging the US higher education system to train more quantum engineers. Besides, it is also necessary to coordinate and exchange with like-minded countries such as the UK, India, Japan and South Korea to share breakthroughs in quantum technology.
In the past, a series of events such as Pearl Harbor, Sputnik to 9/11 have shown that America can still be caught by surprise. And so will the coming dawn of the quantum age. And the choice is now not too difficult: Wait for the devastation of the first cyberattack fueled by quantum decryption, or build defenses to stop it now.