Quantum Security and responsible Use

July 29th, 2022

Quantum computing has the potential to offer a computational advantage for many classically intractable problems, which will have huge benefits for society and industry. However, its threat to current data/communication security protocols cannot be overlooked. In 1994, Peter Shor developed a quantum algorithm that, if implemented on a quantum computer, could break current classical data/communication encryption protocols. This could expose sensitive data such as personal health, financial records, trade secrets, and national security policies/strategies to adversaries. A scalable quantum computer may require a decade’s research and development; however, an adversary could steal and store sensitive encrypted data with longer-term implications and break its encryption within the next decade’s timeline when a quantum computer becomes available. This has instigated a new field of research focused on the development of quantum-resistant or post-quantum encryption algorithms. At present, the focus of the research in this domain is in two directions:

  • Quantum secured classical encryption algorithms
  • Quantum encryption algorithms such as quantum key distribution

In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the USA announced an open call for the development of quantum-resistant classical encryption protocols. Recently, they have announced winning encryption algorithms/protocols that could protect data/communication security in the presence of a quantum threat. These and similar quantum-resistant encryption protocols provide a viable pathway to transition the current security systems into the post-quantum era. However, some key challenges remain open, which will be investigated by our work at Data61. These include (a) application of emerging and developed solutions as per international standards and guidelines; and (b) development of hybrid solutions supporting a secure transition to the post-quantum era.

A second key focus of our work is the responsible use of quantum technologies, where Data61 is already collaborating with CSIRO’s Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform and WEF to better understand the ethical challenges Australia is likely to encounter in a quantum computing-driven world. Leveraging our existing strength in responsible software/data use/AI, our work will identify the ethical challenges of quantum technologies associated with security and privacy-preserving data storage and communication and develop a guide for quantum ethical impact assessment for systems that use secure communication and data storage.