Magazine article The Futurist

What Quantum Computing Means for National Security: Researchers Look to a Radically Advanced Computer Environment and a New Era of Cybersecurity Threats

Magazine article The Futurist

What Quantum Computing Means for National Security: Researchers Look to a Radically Advanced Computer Environment and a New Era of Cybersecurity Threats

Article excerpt

If cyberwarfare is the Cold War of the new millennium, quantum computation may be the hydrogen bomb.

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Researchers with Google, D-Wave (a Canadian computer hardware company), and the U.S. government are looking to quantum physics to make vastly more-capable computers. They may also find the key to making certain networks, pages, or computers nearly invincible to cyberattacks, or render certain Internet security systems completely defenseless.

Quantum computation harnesses the unique behavior of subatomic particles--behaviors that don't occur anywhere else in nature above this incredibly small scale. Scientists view quantum physics as distinct from regular physics for this reason. It's also why subatomic particles can be made to compute information differently than their bulkier macro-scale counterparts.

A quantum computing breakthrough could, in turn, enable governments to break otherwise impervious encryption codes such as the "public key" cryptographic systems that protect your e-mail and bank account [see box]. Cracking the public key could render such security measures worthless. The same trick could be reversed to create essentially unbreakable encryption codes.

"There is a national security interest in not being the second country to build a large quantum computer," says Dave Bacon, a computer scientist at Washington University.

Recently, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) unveiled what they called "the world's most efficient single photon detector," which is purportedly able to count individual particles of light traveling through fiberoptic cables with roughly 99% efficiency. The announcement could have ramifications for quantum computing efforts and for secure networking. A detector that could recognize if a photon forming part of a transmission were missing would be a substantial defense against information theft, say researchers. …

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