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How Could Quantum Computing Impact Our Data Security?

Companies are facing an uphill struggle as it is, but things could be about to get harder

24May

Quantum computing is no longer a technology whispered only in the corridors of Silicon Valley. It has appeared on the BBC, the Guardian, New York Times and CNN. The cat is truly out of the bag.

For those who still need to catch up, the idea behind quantum computers is that rather than leveraging traditional transistors that are either on or off, they utilize quantum mechanics so that they can be either on or off, or on and off at the same time. This may seem like a small thing, but in reality has the potential to create computers many thousands of times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer today.

Canadian company D-Wave are on the crest of this wave and have become a driving force behind its spread. Their current quantum computer is 3,600 times more powerful than the world's current most powerful  super computer, for instance. This power is huge and has significant benefits for those with access, but, as Spiderman knows, with great power comes great responsibility.

Alongside the ability to analyze and process data thousands of times faster than we currently can, it also means that it is fast enough to break almost every encryption in the world. This includes bitcoin, cloud providers, bank accounts - almost anything.

So how will it impact our security? We took a look at both sides of the argument.

It will damage it

We have seen that the world relies on secure data. A report in 2015 claimed that the cost of data lost sits at  $154 per record, but it is not simply about the impact that this could have on a company's bottom line. We have also seen that this has the chance to destroy lives and relationships.

According to some sources, a quantum computer would have the power to crack an encryption code 400 digits long, something that would be impossible for a regular computer today. The implications of this are simple: There is the potential for almost every single piece of information stored online to be hacked.

We have seen that companies are often behind the times when developing techniques and technologies to protect against current systems, with Experian, the US voting database, and Ebay all examples that have cost companies more than just money. When this new powerful way of computing becomes more widely used, if companies don't adopt new security systems straight away, then they will leave themselves vulnerable to attacks.

It will make it better

It is certainly true that quantum computing has the potential to create real security problems for existing data security systems, purely based on the power it has. However, this same power will also make everything we do considerably better protected.

We have seen that machine learning and artificial intelligence is going to become one of the most powerful weapons we have against hacks and data loss. The more powerful this can be, the better the protections we will have.

Quantum computing is going to allow companies to become fortresses with data that is almost unhackable using current techniques. We have seen that IBM's Watson, a cognitive computing system, will be added to the company's data security offerings later in 2016 and this is going to kick start the arms race of security that will eventually see quantum computing becoming a key tenet. IBM are currently the leading global company in terms of quantum developments, so this concentration on security is likely to spill over to quantum computing.

We are also currently at the 'enigma machine' phase of quantum computing, with the most widely known quantum computer from D-Wave measuring a colossal 10'x10'x10' or a volume of 1000 cubic feet. The price of these computers is also north of $10 million, so well beyond the reach of most of the world's hacker communities. In fact for the next few years at least, they are expected to be used as a cloud based computing platform, which is not the kind of environment that hackers can practically and safely use.

It means that, although there is hypothetically the power to crush any security system in the world, the people who's data needs to be protected the most will be the first to see the benefits in terms of security. The kinds of organizations that can afford this technology will be the ones who hold the data and will have the opportunity to protect their systems using this new computing power. It means that by the time the price and practicalities of the technology drops to a point where the more nefarious characters can use it, they will be years behind.

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