CIOs Are Racing To Deal With The Next Big Security Threat: Quantum Computing

Quantum computing may allow unstoppable future attacks on corporate networks
Quantum computing may allow unstoppable future attacks on corporate networks
Image Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

One of the most important jobs that the person with the CIO job has is to keep the company’s networks and data secure because of the importance of information technology. This means that they are responsible for implementing systems and procedures that will keep the bad guys out. We purchase and implement products that require our users to correctly identify themselves before they are permitted to access important company resources. So far these systems seem to be working fairly well – the bad guys have not been able to guess how to defeat our security measures. However, with the arrival of quantum computing this may all change. What do CIOs need to do in order to get ready?

The Problem With Quantum Computing

As is always the case with new technologies, the clever scientists who do such things are currently working very hard to commercialize the very first large-scale quantum computer. They have recently made some significant advances and this has caused cryptography experts to become concerned. The reason for the concern is that once it has been created, the new quantum computer can be used by either a rogue nation or a hacker to launch an attack on any network security system. What this means is that it’s time to develop some new encryption systems that are going to be capable of thwarting an attack like this.

The reason that the person in the CIO position needs to be worrying about things like this is because there are classes of math problems that are simply impossible to solve on one of today’s supercomputers – it would take too long. However, these types of problems become easy to solve quickly when you start to use a quantum computer. CIOs understand that it’s math that has been used to create the systems that protect our networks and our secure transactions.

The reason that quantum computers pose such a threat is because classical computers use binary digits (bits) to represent information and these bits can either be a 0 or a 1 at any moment in time. However, a quantum computer uses what are called quantum binary digits (qubits). These can be both a 0 and a 1 at the same moment in time. What this means is that quantum computers can process math problems very, very fast. A quantum computer has the ability to sort through a very large number of possibilities in order to identify the solution to a problem. These almost impossible calculations could be completed in less than a fraction of a second. The good news for CIOs is that as of right now, no scalable quantum computer that is fault tolerant has been built yet. However, it will soon be here.

What Will Happen To RSA Encryption When Quantum Computing Arrives?

Just exactly how do CIOs currently go about protecting their networks and sensitive data? In the IT industry, there is a widely used encryption algorithm called RSA that is used to secure such things as online banking, email, and various forms of e-commerce. However, RSA will be vulnerable when large-scale quantum computers become available. The reason that the RSA algorithm is vulnerable to quantum computers is because it is based on a mathematical technique called integer factorization. This is basically a form of reverse multiplication.

The reason that the RSA algorithm is so popular right now is that it would take today’s computers several years to attempt to factor the 500-600 digit large numbers that the algorithm uses. The end result of this is that attempting to solve an integer factorization problem is both inefficient and impractical. This is one of the reasons why the RSA algorithm has been popular for over 40 years.

The problem comes from the simple fact that quantum computers are able to solve integer factorization problems trillions of times faster than today’s computers. What this means is that the algorithms that we are using today won’t serve CIOs in the future. New algorithms will have to be created. When new quantum computers become available, there will have to be new cryptographic algorithms that have been developed which will be immune to the immense power of quantum computers. In order to achieve this, scientists will have to find complex mathematical problems that have no known efficient algorithm that any computer could use to solve it. Once this type of algorithm has been discovered, it will then have to be turned into a cryptographic system. The good news is that everyone realizes that they have a problem and they are working to create a solution to it before quantum computers become available.

What All Of This Means For You

A CIO has a number of different responsibilities. Chief among these is keeping the company’s network and data safe from prying eyes. The way that we currently go about doing this is by purchasing encryption systems and programs that allow us to limit access to only those employees who can properly identify themselves to the system. However, technology has a habit of marching on and it turns out that developments in the world of quantum computers may end up turning CIO’s worlds upside down.

Quantum computers have been discussed for a long time. However, recent advances in the creation of large scale quantum computers have made them more of a possibility than ever before. The reason that these computers represent such a threat to CIOs is that they are able to process what are currently unsolvable math problems unbelievably fast. Using quantum binary digits quantum computers are able to cycle through trillions of possible solutions in a fraction of a second. Problems that would take today’s computers years to attempt to solve can be almost instantly solved by a quantum computer. Most networks and data are currently protected using the RSA algorithm. Once quantum computers become widely available, this algorithm will be easily cracked. This means that before quantum computers become available, new cryptographic algorithms need to be developed that can withstand an assault from a quantum computer.

The one thing that CIOs know better than most people is that you can’t stop the future from arriving. This means that the power of quantum computers will be on our doorstep sooner than most of us realize. CIOs understand that now is the time to develop the cryptographic algorithms that will be able to be used in the brave new world that will be occupied by quantum computers.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How will CIOs be able to tell if new cryptographic algorithms can withstand an attack by a quantum computer?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s face it, when it comes to money, people can quickly become very greedy. When you take a look at institutions like the American stock market, the potential for people to do a large number of things that they really should not do becomes very large. In order to keep things under control and make sure that everyone behaves themselves, the government created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This organization has the responsibility to watch over all stock and option trading and make sure that nobody is doing anything that they should not be doing. This all sounds like a good idea, but what should the SEC’s CIO do when they are the ones who get hacked?