(Image Credit: Getty Images)
Quantum computing is a concept known since the twentieth century that seeks to improve the processing of operations performed by a computer. As it is known, a computer can process a certain amount of information at the moment. What quantum computing seeks is to increase the speed with which operations are performed.
Understanding quantum bits
Information from a computer is represented in bits, which is a unit of information represented with binary numbers. The bits are transmitted together to represent large pieces of information. Computers only work at the speed at which they can process these bits. Bits can only represent 2^n different states and to change them x operations are necessary. The limitations above can be avoided if we could superposition and entangle these bits. More than 2^n states can be stored with superposition, with the help of quantum bits (qubits) and the relationships between qubits remain fixed with entanglement. This means that a single bit can reach a mixed state where it can be both a 1 and a 0 at the same time.
Image 1: Representation of bit vs qubit operation. Via: https://towardsdatascience.com/quantum-computing-with-colorful-diagrams-8f7861cfb6da
The way a computer works is, that, in order to find a solution, it looks for all possible options to reach it. This can be understood by having two regular bits. The possible combinations they have are 00, 01, 10, and 11. A regular computer would try one by one all the combinations of these bits until it found the desired one. The way qubits work is that the pair of bits will be these four combinations at the same time, thanks to superposition, thus all options will be tested at the same time. This exponentially increases the speed to perform operations of a computer, because these operations will be performed simultaneously.
It is difficult to work with qubits because of how specific their conditions need to be to work with them. A Qubit requires a completely isolated room, with a temperature close to absolute zero. The small vibration of a nearby atom can cause them to lose their superposition state, and if this state is lost, the quantum computer can make mistakes in operations, and it would also start working at the speed of a normal computer.
At the moment there are already quantum computers, but they can’t almost be found commercially. The first quantum computer was operated in 1998. In 2020 IBM developed the world's largest quantum computer, with 65 qubits. In 2018, Intel launched a processor made up of 49 qubits.
Looking ahead, IBM made plans to continue innovating by building 127-qubit computers in 2021, 433 qubits by 2022, and 1,121 by 2023; Subsequently one of one million qubits on a date that has not yet been fixed. IBM has also produced the first quantum computer available for the general market, which will provide cloud access to its machine called Q System One 20 qubits.
Image 2: IBM Q System One, first commercial quantum computer, via: https://techcrunch.com/2019/01/08/ibm-unveils-its-first-commercial-quantum-computer/
Impact on cybersecurity
So far most of the quantum work has been done in academic research organizations. But as the number of qubits available per computer increases, commercial interest in it increases, so enterprise deployments increase.
According to Forbes, quantum computing can improve four areas of cybersecurity.
The first is the generation of random numbers. This is very important for cryptography, as currently, random number generation uses algorithms that generate numbers in a way that is not completely random.
The second is secure communication via quantum cryptographic keys. The exchange of information through these quantum keys (QKD) will increase the security of the exchange of encryption keys and even alert any security breaches. Currently, QKD is limited to transmission by fibers of ten kilometers.
The third is almost the opposite case to the second one, since it would look for an algorithm capable of breaking public keys, as is the case of the RSA algorithm, which is present in the $ 4 trillion dollars of e-commerce. It would take an ordinary computer about a trillion years to break the RSA algorithm, in the other hand, it would take a 1 million qubit quantum computer a matter of seconds.
The last area is machine learning. The more you train a machine learning model, the more the volume of information and the complexity used increases. Using qubits, the use of algorithms could exponentially increase their speed, and consequently their energy savings.
Image 3: The importance of random number generation, via: https://www.synopsys.com/designware-ip/technical-bulletin/true-random-number-generator-security-2019q3.html
In conclusion, quantum computing is an area that is not new and has already had important advances. When these computers can be developed to a higher number of qubits, it will certainly open a major revolution in the way we use computers today. This will directly affect how cybersecurity is handled today, since breaking algorithms will not be an impossible task if you have access to this technology. A very important tip will be to be prepared for when the day comes. There is no clear day for when a computer with 1 million qubits arrives, but at the speed at which they are developing, the day does not look too distant.
Junior Security Engineer