CIOs who are following what is going on in the world of security and encryption know that things are about to dramatically change. A new type of computing, quantum computing, is being developed. This new type of computing is going to be perfectly suited to breaking the types of encryption that we are using to secure our networks and our corporate data today. Within 10 years these new quantum computers are going to become available and CIOs need to be getting ready to deal with them now.
The Problem With Quantum Computers
One of the problems caused by quantum computers today is what they may be able to do tomorrow. There is motivation for the bad guys to hack into our computer networks today, find our databases and confidential files and make copies of them. If we’ve done our job as the person with the CIO job and all of these files are encrypted, that’s not going to stop them. What they are trying to do is to get copies of our unencryptable data today so that when tomorrow and its quantum computers arrives they’ll be able to decode them then.
The reason that quantum computers pose such a threat for the person in the CIO position is because of their enormous computing potential and the impact that that will have on the importance of information technology. The data that we have secured today has been encrypted using systems that can only be decoded using software that can factor very, very large numbers. Sometimes these numbers have over 300 digits in them. For one of today’s conventional computers this is a very difficult problem to solve. However, for a quantum computer it is a relatively simple problem to solve.
The problem posed by quantum computers is easy to describe. If a quantum computer with enough power could be built, then all bets are off. All of our passwords, financial records, text message, intellectual property, and secret communications will become as though they were being broadcast in clear text. Clearly this is a problem. However, the good news is that quantum computers have not yet arrived and CIOs are already aware of the problems that they are going to cause. We still have time to take action.
How CIOs Are Going To Deal With The Arrival Of Quantum Computers
If it helps you to sleep any better at night, some of the smartest mathematicians and cybersecurity experts who work for Microsoft, Google, Facebook, IBM and the federal government are aware of this problem and are currently working on creating a solution for it. What these smart people are working on is a brand new type of encryption called “quantum safe encryption”. This type of encryption can be created by today’s computers in the same time that traditional encryption takes but it can’t be cracked by traditional or quantum computers.
As you might well imagine, there are many different competing encryption algorithms that are considered to be quantum safe. The most popular approach is something that is called “lattice encryption”. This approach works by encoding data in a three dimensional grid of data. As good as it is, before lattice encryption can get everywhere that it needs to be it is first going to have to become an agreed upon standard. After that happens, it will need to be turned into computer code and then inserted into a countless number of computers and computing devices.
The thinking is that it is going to take between 5-10 years to roll out this new encryption standard. This rollout can be sped up if CIOs work together to create a greater sense of urgency around this quantum computing issue. Note that having quantum computers arrive in 10 years is an aggressive thought – it may take 15 to 20 years for them to show up. There are other ways to secure our systems. One such method would require CIOs to double the length of the key that is being used to secure their systems. Note that the discovery of advanced algorithms could allow quantum computers to break existing encryption faster than anticipated.
What All Of This Means For You
On top of all of the other challenges that CIOs are currently facing, it turns out that there is one more thing that they have to start to worry about: the arrival of quantum computers. These fantastic new computing devices are unlike anything that we currently have and will open a brave new world in which computations that take too long today can be completed in an instant. Once this happens, all of the things that we have encrypted will be able to be read by anybody.
Right now the bad guys are trying to steal as much of our encrypted data as they can get their hands on. The reason that they are doing this is that they are looking forward to the day when they have quantum computers that will allow them to unencrypt our files and read them. Quantum computers are a threat because they can factor very large numbers quickly. When they become available, quantum computers will be able to decode everything. The good news is that we already know about this problem. Very smart people are working to create quantum safe encryption. The most popular way of doing this is called lattice encryption. Introducing a new encryption standard may take 5-10 years. However, quantum computers may take longer than 10 years to show up.
Quantum computers pose both great opportunities and great threats. CIOs need to understand that the encryption tools that we are using today will not be able to withstand the threats posed by the arrival of quantum computers. CIOs need to start to take steps now to get quantum safe encryption algorithms worked into the company’s security systems. It will take several years to get these new algorithms everywhere that they need to be. However, currently we have time to do it. CIOs need to make the best use of the time that they have been given in order to secure the company against the future threat of quantum computers.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™
Question For You: Do you think that CIOs will have to be ready for the arrival of quantum computers in 10 years?
Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Let’s face it, there is a lot on a CIO’s plate right now. All of the normal things related to importance of information technology are there: securing the company’s networks, introducing new applications, educating users about security, etc. Just to make things a bit more difficult, all of sudden everyone seems to be working from home. However, it turns out that there is something else that CIOs need to be dealing with right now. That is the problem with diversity (or the lack there of) in the IT department. The good news is that this is a problem that can be solved. CIOs just need to take the time to find out how to go about doing that.