The national security community needs to prepare now for the possibility that U.S. adversaries could develop and deploy quantum computers, which would render useless most conventional encryption algorithms, says Adrian Stanger, senior cryptographic authority, Cybersecurity Directorate, National Security Agency (NSA).
A new open-access quantum computing testbed from the Department of Energy is ready for the public. Scientists from Indiana University were the first team to begin using Sandia National Laboratories’ Quantum Scientific Computing Open User Testbed, or QSCOUT.
QSCOUT is rare because it is a free, open-access testbed made with trapped ion technology. The platform gives users an uncommon amount of control in their research.
Because U.S. adversaries likely will be able to use quantum computers within the next several years, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) officials are beginning to explore quantum-resistant technologies and the role the agency might play in developing or deploying those technologies.
As researchers in multiple disciplines explore the untapped potential of quantum technologies, some distinct patterns of usage are emerging. With fully useful capabilities still several years off, experts are weighing the breakthroughs that may come. One key point is that the advanced applications that will come with quantum computing will define the state of the art in future years.
In the future, anyone trying to figure out how to use limited resources may reap the benefits of computers that are a hybrid of quantum and classical systems.
Such hybrid computers might prove especially efficient and effective at solving certain kinds of problems, such as strategic asset deployment, global supply chains, battlefield logistics, package delivery, the best path for electronics on a computer chip and network node placement. Research also could impact machine learning and coding theory.
Across the U.S. Air Force’s research arm, scientists are developing quantum information science capabilities in four key areas of interest to the service: timing; sensing; communications and networking; and computing. Experts at the Air Force Research Laboratory, known as AFRL, are also investigating the development of enabling technologies, which will springboard the use of quantum capabilities in the four areas.
The U.S. Army soldier proceeds methodically, picking his way through dense vegetative growth as he traverses a battlefield that geologically is ages old, but technologically is years in the future. With the enemy rendering satellite-borne GPS signals ineffective, the soldier resorts to his internal position-location unit that pinpoints his spot to the meter. His external sensor suite alerts him to the presence of enemy air and ground forces, but they are far enough away to be of no consequence yet. That raises suspicions in his mind, as they seem to have left the soldier’s area strangely undefended—even unattended.
Quantum computers will revolutionize information technology, ushering in an era where certain types of calculations will be performed with almost unimaginable speed. Practical applications will include healthcare disciplines such as molecular biology and drug discovery; big data mining; financial services such as portfolio analysis and fraud detection; and artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is investing in a number of research institutes designed to advance quantum technologies in four broad areas: computation, communication, sensing and simulation. The institutes will foster multidisciplinary approaches to specific scientific, technological, educational, and workforce development goals in quantum technology, which could revolutionize computer and information systems.
International Business Machines Corp., Yorktown Heights, New York, has been awarded a $7,500,000 other transaction agreement for experimental purposes to provide an IBM Q access license. This agreement provides for remote access to the IBM Q System, a quantum computer with approximately 20 to 50 qubits. Work will be performed in Yorktown Heights, New York, and is expected to be complete by April 30, 2022. Fiscal year 2019 research and development funds in the amount of $5,000,000 are being obligated at the time of award. Air Force Research Laboratory, Rome, New York, is the contracting activity (FA8750-19-9-0334).
Four newly announced projects led by Sandia National Laboratories aim to advance quantum computing technology, according to an announcement from the laboratories.
The efforts include: a quantum computing testbed with accessible components on which industrial, academic and government researchers can run their own algorithms; a suite of test programs to measure the performance of quantum hardware; classical software to ensure reliable operation of quantum computing testbeds and coax the most utility from them; and high-level quantum algorithms that explore connections with theoretical physics, classical optimization and machine learning.
The U.S. Office of Management and Budget released a report this spring showing the abysmal state of cybersecurity in the federal government. Three-quarters of the agencies assessed were found to be “at risk” or “at high risk,” highlighting the need for a cyber overhaul. The report also noted that many agencies lacked “standardized cybersecurity processes and IT capabilities,” which affected their ability to “gain visibility and effectively combat threats.”
The cyber realm has redefined the meaning of warfare itself. Conflict in cyberspace is constant, low-cost and uninhibited by traditional definitions of territory and country. Now, governments, militaries and private research groups from America to South Korea are taking cyber capabilities one step further, using developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning to create autonomous weapons that will soon be deployed into battle.
Machine learning already has been used in both cyber and kinetic weapons, from autonomously firing gun turrets to human-superior social engineering attacks. While these advances are noteworthy, these machines are neither entirely intelligent nor autonomous.
With the arrival of June, we’re at the halfway point of an already busy year for the cybersecurity industry. With each passing year, our sector continues to demonstrate its evolving approach to fighting cyber threats, as cyber crime itself continues to evolve.
As both business and government move forward with digital transformation initiatives to improve processes and efficiency, the overall security attack surface continues to expand with more potential points of access for criminals to exploit. However, our industry is tackling these challenges head-on, with numerous innovative solutions continuing to come to market.
The potential geopolitical consequences of quantum communications will result in clear asymmetries in both knowledge and confidentiality of information. Countries whose data can be protected through quantum communication techniques will have a significant information advantage, a situation that would have important, albeit hard to predict, effects on geopolitical developments.
A quantum physics-based technology developed by National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers may enable first responders, warfighters and mariners to communicate and navigate in areas where radio and satellite-based communications are limited or nonexistent. The capability would allow military and emergency personnel to stay connected in urban canyons, under rubble, inside buildings, underground or even underwater.
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a method for generating numbers guaranteed to be random by quantum mechanics. Generating truly random numbers is one of the major challenges for quantum-based encryption and could mark a major leap in cybersecurity.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has security issues. The fundamental weakness is that it adds to the number of devices behind a network firewall that can be compromised. Not only do we need to safeguard our computers and smartphones, now we must worry about protecting our homes, vehicles, appliances, wearables and other IoT devices.
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, has been awarded a $9,000,000 modification (P00001) to contract W911NF-17-C-0050 for basic research in quantum computing. Work will be performed in Los Angeles, California, with an estimated completion date of June 8, 2019. Fiscal 2017 operations and maintenance (Army) funds in the amount of $8,777,000 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, is the contracting activity.
The U.S. government is racing to identify technologies that will resist the threat from quantum computers, which will render today’s encryption obsolete.
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has awarded a research contract in support of the Quantum Enhanced Optimization (QEO) program to an international team led by the University of Southern California. With the award, IARPA, which is within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, embarked on a multi-year research effort to develop special-purpose algorithms and hardware that harness quantum effects to surpass conventional computing.
While we are all still in the early stages of a networked, always-on Internet of Things world, this is the precise time to develop crucial and effective cybersecurity solutions to combat growing threats. The developing ecosystem needs new ideas for bold government actions, particularly to reduce the risks of quantum computers.
Quantum Threats Looming
Calling all codebreakers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, needs the public's help to head off what officials say is a looming threat to information security: quantum computers.
It is believed that futuristic quantum computers significantly will outperform the supercomputers of today, an advancement that potentially could break encryption codes used to protect privacy in digital systems. The agency needs methods and strategies from the world’s cryptographers.
If all goes well with its most recent five-year review, the Joint Quantum Institute will receive a renewal of research dollars next month to continue exploring quantum mechanics and quantum phenomena. The fundamental science could one day lead to revolutionary sensors, electronic devices and computers.
“We’re really pushing the edge of what you can do with technologies,” says Gretchen Campbell, who in April was appointed co-director of the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI). “At the theoretical level, of course, there’s the need to push the frontiers of knowledge.”