Quantum computer is a threat to data protection

Quantum-safe technology
14 October 2022

Quantum technology places us at the precipice of a technological revolution that could contribute to solving all kinds of social challenges. At the same time, as a country, it’s important that we develop timely protection against the cyber threat this new technology poses. As such, the quantum computer deserves a high place on our national digital-safety agenda.

Our cyber security is currently protected by cryptography, which is used, amongst other things, to protect information from unauthorised access and verify messages’ origin.

This encryption primarily uses mathematical calculations that the computers of today can barely solve. Even our fastest present-day computers would take decades to centuries to decipher the encrypted information. But this will all change with the arrival of the quantum computer.

Opportunity versus threat

Quantum computers will be making a large social contribution by solving problems that we currently cannot solve due to a lack to processing power. Consider, for example, the development of (personalised) medicines. However, this is progress with a flipside.

The quantum computer’s unprecedented processing power will also enable it to rapidly decrypt information, potentially making national or business secrets accessible to parties with ill intent. This makes it a risk to our national security and economy.

Waiting is no longer an option

The development of quantum technology and the utilisation of its many promises are in full swing. For example, as part of QuTech, TNO is working with the Delft University of Technology on the first scalable quantum computer and safe quantum internet.

At the same time, we must also invest in cyber security. Making our current IT systems ‘quantum safe’ is incredibly complex and time-consuming. Meanwhile, malicious forces can already intercept and store confidential information for later decryption, after the arrival of the quantum computer. This is also referred to as ‘store now, decrypt later’.

Since a lot of confidential information has a long confidentiality period, this poses a real and acute threat. Even if the quantum computer’s introduction is still more than a decade away, our collective safety and security demand we already start working hard on developing quantum-safe cryptography.

Time for action

Like in other countries, it’s necessary for our national security, the Dutch economy, and various vital sectors for our national government to map out the risks. Doing so will create clarity regarding the scope and size of this challenge.

Within the private sector and government organisations, it’s essential on a technical level to map out the areas that use cryptography that isn’t future-proof and what the implications of this could be. At the same time, it’s important for us as a country to start investing in the development of knowledge and resources that will make impact analyses and migrations easier and less labour-intensive.

Our national government, the private sector, and knowledge institutions must urgently take up the gauntlet to protect our state secrets and business information, and to adequately protect access to critical infrastructure. Interdepartmental collaboration is currently ongoing within the Dutch government to work on a plan to migrate to quantum-safe cryptography.

In addition, TNO, working together with AIVD (the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands) and the cryptography group of CWI, will publish a migration manual in 2023. This manual will offer tangible tools to set the migration in motion.

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