Navigating cybersecurity threats posed by quantum computing advances

November 17th, 2021

Understanding and addressing cybersecurity ethical and technical risks in emerging quantum technologies

Project Duration: September 2021 to June 2022

Understanding and addressing cybersecurity ethical and technical risks in emerging quantum technologies

The Challenge

Quantum computing has been hailed as the new frontier in computing. It diverges from conventional computing primarily in the way that it stores information as ‘qubits’ rather than as binary ‘bits’. In a very basic sense, this allows quantum computers to process information at a hugely faster rate than classic computers. Research in this area around the world is unsurprisingly experiencing huge demand with investment from technology companies, governments and private investors, and it is set to become an integral solution for the technology sector in Australia and globally in the coming decade/s.

Market ready – or not – researchers working in cyber security and responsible innovation are actively exploring the challenges that tomorrow’s quantum technologies may pose to current security systems.

Many of today’s cybersecurity systems for sending and storing data rely on encryption (or cryptography). Cryptography is a foundational tool that enables many modern digital services that we take for granted. Many software systems use public-key cryptosystems, which are based on complex computational problems in mathematics. These encrypted algorithms help render data unintelligible if breached and create safe spaces in which to conduct online activities.

Some encryption algorithms could be vulnerable to attack by quantum computers once the technology is more advanced. The time it takes to break an algorithm using quantum computer is significantly reduced. This gives rise to scenarios where, for example, sensitive personal information captured via adversarial eavesdropping today could be retained for later decrypting by powerful quantum computers in the future. The inevitability of a future world driven by quantum computing raises urgent questions about how we use cryptography today, and the implications quantum technology imposes on the future security and privacy of our data.

Though science is continuing to advance post quantum cryptographic techniques, it may be some time before cryptographic algorithms can be replaced with ethical quantum-safe solutions. Indeed, it may take many years to make the Internet quantum safe. The secure future of our trusted online interactions, therefore, could be significantly disrupted. So, what happens between now and then?

Our Response

CSIRO’s Responsible Innovation Future Science Platform and Data61 are collaborating to better understand the ethical challenges Australia is likely to encounter in a quantum computing driven world.

By critically examining how we approach and evaluate the ethical and technical activities and risks posed by quantum computing, and more specifically its application to cryptography, CSIRO is applying a responsible innovation approach to:

  1. identify the ethical challenges of quantum technologies associated with secure and privacy preserving data storage and communication.
  2. develop a guide for quantum ethical impact assessment for systems that use secure communication and secure data storage.
  3. consider deployment issues, such as interoperability, fairness and impact on the economy, and the implications these may have for the secure storage of Australia’s data.

This research project aims to establish the foundation of ethical quantum capability in CSIRO and will contribute to advancing the aims of contributing to the development of ethical guidance and governance standards in this field, and the development of new scientific techniques for addressing privacy and cybersecurity risks of emerging quantum technologies.

This project will also build new collaborations with national partners in the RI FSP; and internationally, actively contribute to international networks working on quantum computing ethics and governance. The discussions will also improve awareness and facilitate development and deployment of post quantum cryptographic techniques. These efforts will help to ensure a responsible quantum future that generates positive socioeconomic impacts for generations to come.

Team

Rebecca Coates, (Project Lead), Dongxi Liu, Surya Nepal, Josef PieprzykMohan Baruwal Chhetri, Wei Kang, Selasi Kwashie, Tina Wu, Regine Richelle, along with Sushmita Ruj and Andrew Feutrill (past team members).