Quantum Enhanced Security
Maintaining a secure control plane is key in a world of software defined everything
Data and information are the new oil. Used in the wrong ways and we’ve already seen it sway elections. Used in the right ways, however, and it can make our cities more efficient, our business decisions more informed, and our planet more connected.
Quantum computing promises to give us an important new tool to process data, but at the same time it is also going to expose a major weakness in our current digital encryption – putting this new oil at risk. In an earlier article, ‘Q-Day is coming – and we are not prepared‘, I discussed this problem – the fact that quantum computers are tailormade to crack the mathematics that currently underpin our information security. Luckily, you can fight fire with fire and use quantum technology, in the form of quantum cryptography, combined with new modern cryptography techniques, called post-quantum algorithms, to regain security.
In that original article, I briefly mentioned a few future advancements that promise to revolutionise our lives but also have huge risks if we don’t build in security from the start. It’s called security by design and we think quantum encryption has a role to play in some of these opportunities. Here I’d like to discuss three in more detail.
The telecommunications industry is rapidly moving away from installing purpose-built hardware (switches, routers, and firewalls) and instead towards installing flexible equipment (essentially computing equipment with multiple ethernet and optical connections) that can then define in software the function of the device. So today it can be a firewall, tomorrow a router, and so on – thus the name software defined networks (SDN).
Obviously, this level of flexibility opens up huge potential for new applications. However, it also introduces single points of failure into the network since the security of the control plane is now paramount. Whereas, someone hacking into network equipment before had a relatively local influence, now someone hacking into this control plane can take down a nation’s entire telecommunications network!
However, the control plane of this new telecommunications network, where important nodes are spaced 50 to 100 kilometres apart and the locations are owned by the provider, is the ideal place to deploy quantum encryption. Using it, we can ensure the security of this control plane and even encrypt high-value telemetry data sent back from the devices.
And as soon as you’ve tried this trick once, you realise there’s a multitude of other places it can help. Smart cities are essentially software defined traffic networks. The cloud is currently undergoing a transformation to next generation software defined data centres (SDDC). Industrial IoT in critical infrastructure like nuclear power plants, water utilities, and ports are hardware and software defined networks. And all can benefit from a chip-based approach to quantum encryption to ensure the utmost security.
A second change starting to happen is the general public beginning to realise how valuable their data is and starting to take back ownership and control of it. Rather than leaving it in the cloud, we might not be far off from a world like Altered Carbon, where we start wearing our data and carrying our “digital twin” around on our persons. This would work well with Microsoft’s vision of the office of the future with its Surface Hub’s becoming ubiquitous. You could walk into a room full of screens and computing equipment, start working with data – your data – save the results back off the devices and walk on. And you could use quantum encryption to securely send it to and from the devices.
Finally, Machine learning and AI are going through rapid advances, and here again it appears quantum can help. Researchers have shown how certain steps in machine learning algorithms can be sped up with quantum computing resources. At the moment, the plan is still for hybrid devices and algorithms, but in the future one could imagine fully quantum machine learning algorithms.
Why does that matter beyond potentially speed? Well, unlike in the classical world, in the quantum world you can do things like quantum computing on encrypted data. Imagine that, a future world where you can run a known machine learning algorithm on a quantum computing server, while your data remains fundamentally unknowable to that same server. You could ask Skynet itself to calculate the best way to kill The Terminator… without alerting The Terminator. Beyond this, you can eventually hide the algorithm as well.
Advancement one – software defined everything – is already here and quantum can help. And perhaps advancements two and three aren’t as far away as we think. At KETS, our vision is to help build this future world where you trust your digital connections just as much as your personal ones.
Chris Erven, November 2019
Originally published as part of Tech UK’s #QuantumFuture campaign.