Tackling the challenges of quantum computing seriously

At the end of last week, the FT published a guest article on quantum computing.

For those unfamiliar with quantum computing, it is the technology that will be capable of harnessing the powers of quantum mechanics to solve problems which are too complex for ‘classical’ computers (the computers of today).

Classical computing employs streams of electrical impulses to encode information: an electrical impulse may be only 1 or 0 (i.e. on or off) – a classical 'bit’. In quantum mechanics particles can exist in more than one state at a time. In binary terms, this means that a quantum bit (known as a "qubit") can be both 1 and 0 at the same time. If a computer can be built that harnesses this quantum  mechanical phenomena, then it should be able to solve complex problems much faster than classical computers or problems too complex for classical computers to solve.

In 1994, Peter Shor (a mathematician) wrote an algorithm (known as Shor's Algorithm) that could crack the Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) algorithm. RSA is a suite of cryptographic algorithms that are used for systems security purposes – it secures huge amounts of sensitive data – from national security to personal data – within a firm’s systems and as it is being sent externally. Shor’s Algorithm is not capable of running on classical computers: it requires quantum computing to be effective.

Quantum computing is not a pipe dream: there are myriad firms working on developing it; and there are firms which do produce hardware with limited quantum computing capability at the moment (which works alongside classical computers). It may be decade before quantum computing becomes a reality (and many more years before it is commoditised), however, when it does, it will change the way in which we all need to secure our data. The security of both previous and future communications/storage will be at risk (or non-existent). In 2020, the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre published a white paper “Preparing for Quantum-Safe Cryptography”. In its conclusions, it stated that “there is unlikely to be a single quantum-safe algorithm suitable for all applications.” In 2021, the NCSC announced its first quantum-safe algorithm. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced its first four quantum-resistant cryptographic algorithms.

The Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum – bringing together four leading regulators in the UK – published its “Quantum Technologies Insights Paper” earlier this year (June 2023).  The paper considers the potential of quantum computing and the issues that need to be considered now – as in now – to prepare the world for this next big chapter in computing technology.

There are a few things to note:

  • The dichotomy between the phraseology of the NCSC and NIST: “quantum-safe” and “quantum-resistant” – “resistant” is not the same as “safe” (think “water-proof” versus “water-resistant”); and it is more likely that algorithms will be developed to slow down a quantum threat than eliminate it, so “resistant” is probably more accurate.
  • Measures available to state actors to prevent breaches of national security will not be available on the high street – commercially-available “quantum-resistant” security measures will be available equally to those hoping to breach them as they are to those hoping to benefit from them.
  • Once the genie is out of the bottle, there will be an arms-race: state and non-state actors will compete to stay one step ahead of each other in both resistance and threat.

The author of the FT article ended with a limerick written by Shor himself. We will end with an idiom. In binary.

01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110111 01101111 01110010 01100100 01110011 00100000 01101111 01100110 00100000 01010011 01100101 01110010 01100111 01100101 01100001 01101110 01110100 00100000 01000101 01110011 01110100 01100101 01110010 01101000 01100001 01110101 01110011 00111010 00100000 01100010 01100101 00100000 01100011 01100001 01110010 01100101 01100110 01110101 01101100 00100000 01101111 01110101 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101 00101110


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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