In a world where humans are connected to technology to the point where we can be compared to “cyborgs”, as said by Elon Musk, it is no surprise that security online has become a major issue. Successful, dangerous hacks towards large corporations or governments, while rare, still result in significant damage regarding privacy of an individual’s data (Like the recent EasyJet hack resulting in the theft of email addresses and credit card information). Hacks are done on the computers of today and are usually combated with even more vigorous security testing to prevent it from happening again. But quantum computers may put cyber security six feet below the ground due to the alien way in which they function and may ultimately result in the extinction of privacy.
What are quantum computers?
A quantum computer, at first thought of as impossible due to its reliance on quantum theory, was thought to fruition after the success of Alan Turing’s machine back in 1936. This gave ideas that the same method could be used, but with the use of quantum mechanics and theory. Quantum computers utilise quantum mechanics instead of binary. In theory, quantum states can exist in varied states simultaneously where qubits (quantum bits) do not rely on the traditional binary nature of computing. For example, a classical computer can only have a data value equalling 0 OR 1: not both. Quantum computers however, using particles that exist as a probability wave until observed then create a final state in terms of spin and charge, and can be linked to each other where a change to one instantaneously affects the other regardless of distance, and can exist as Both 0 AND 1 at the same time resulting in a capacity for an exponentially greater number of calculations. These can be made millions of times faster than a traditional computer. This allows for a significant advancement in modelling and simulation to the point where it has been theorized that it would be relatively easy to simulate our entire universe and traverse theories previously thought impassable.
The helplessness of cyber security against a quantum computer
It will be very difficult to defend against a hack from a quantum computer due to its drastic differences from current computers. Without the power to defend against one, companies, governments, and the average person will face risks of major data breaches among countless other invasions of privacy. In the fiction show, Mr Robot, it was possible to hack the largest conglomerate in the world with current computers, resulting in the destruction of all economic data instantly. While just a fiction show, this will probably become a reality if a quantum computer is introduced with no preparation. This shows what people are watching for entertainment on TV, is a very real possibility that could happen in the real world. There may be a time lag between the implementation of the technology due to eagerness to test it in the real world and the security necessary to combat it. If this is the case, then this brings major security issues. We could expect the economics of the world to be transformed in the blink of an eye. It has even been said by co-founder of “Post Quantum”, a UK based firm, that “bitcoin will expire the very day the first quantum computer arrives”. With concerns being raised by multiple important figures, it is clear the dangers associated with such power entering our everyday life. It would seem as if the economics of the world are collapsing as companies’ security systems are annihilated and all their data, although thought under ‘heavy’ protection will be stolen with no possible retaliation. The impacts are immeasurable and is why unless action is taken by governments and major companies, security and privacy online will be destroyed.
Businesses and corporations have the duty to protect their client’s data. This, coupled with a quantum computers ability to hack traditional computers extremely easily, it is very clear that businesses will be at severe risk. It would not be a shock to see headlines like “All of Amazon’s customers have been hacked” or “Quantum hack of the stock exchange causes historic stock plummet”. We could expect world breaking daily hacks resulting in major lawsuits and a complete erosion of client trust. It is clear to see, that without serious changes in the focus within corporations and world governments to improve its cyber security fast that it is likely we will all have to stand and watch as all our data is sold to third parties and the word ‘privacy’ being but a memory of the past.
A Glimmer of hope?
While I have highlighted a myriad issues quantum computers bring, they will inevitably push humanity forward to a new age if they are implemented correctly. Governments have started to massively fund quantum research projects where more is constantly revealed about its power. There may be malicious intent by our governments to weaponize the technology for personal gain and kill our privacy, but it also highlights the human ability to innovate and change for a greater cause beyond that of borders and diplomacy. Google’s quantum computer known as ‘Sycamore’ was able to solve a calculation in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. A calculation that would take the fastest supercomputer 10,000 years. This is a very early stage quantum computer with low processing power in terms of quantum computers. The knowledge that they will bring is endless and it could be the innovation necessary to push our civilisation forward as they give us the proven power needed to research more difficult discoveries (e.g. dark matter).
If humans do not follow the path they have obliviously followed for thousands of years, then cyber security may become secure to the point hacking becomes extinct and we can browse freely without spam, phishing, and obnoxious links. The methods of data protection of today will become obsolete, but this development may open new opportunities of protecting data by utilising quantum technology to develop more secure methods of data protection . In turn, this could boost data online to unseen levels of security.
As the next few years come, you can expect quantum computers to become a major talking point. Hopefully, this major exposure to the public will shed light on the irresponsibility of current actions taken by governments and corporations. It is up to us to make sure that we should not let quantum computers destroy our privacy, but instead revolutionize it. However, there is always the possibility that the technology may be weaponized, resulting in your private information becoming accessible by criminals, governments and corporations.
- Nick Summers, This is what a 50-qubit quantum computer looks like, Endgadget, Jan. 9, 2018
- Tom Ward, Scientists May Have Found a Way to Combat Quantum Computer Blockchain Hacking, Futurism, Jun. 9, 2017
- CBInsights, What Is Quantum Computing?
- Ray Schroeder, Quantum Computing Is Poised to Change Everything, Inside Higher ED, Oct. 16, 2019
- Jason Roell, The Need, Promise, and Reality of Quantum Computing, Towards Data Science, Feb. 1, 2018