- Countries around the world are still in the process of developing quantum computing.
- A major concern for quantum computing is its potential to disrupt some of the existing encryption methods.
- Nevertheless, quantum computing has the ability to facilitate new encryption methods that are resilient to quantum attacks.
Quantum computing, a technology that employs quantum mechanics principles like superposition and entanglement to carry out computations at a much faster and efficient rate than classical computers, holds promise for applications in various sectors, including cryptography, simulation, optimization, machine learning, and others.
The Asia Pacific region is gaining prominence in the field of quantum computing due to its strong dedication to technological innovation. China, Japan, and South Korea have made substantial investments in research and development in quantum computing.
Some examples of recent accomplishments and initiatives in quantum computing in the Asia Pacific include:
- Japan launched its most potent quantum computer, called QX, in August 2023, which has the capability to perform 100 trillion calculations per second, and is designed to solve complex optimization problems across various domains such as finance, logistics, and manufacturing.
- China has developed its own quantum computers, Jiuzhang and Zuchongzhi, which have demonstrated quantum supremacy, meaning they can execute tasks that are impossible or impractical for classical computers.
- South Korea has announced a plan to invest 1.5 trillion won (US$1.3 billion) in quantum computing over the next ten years with the goal of developing a 128-qubit quantum computer by 2028.
- In Southeast Asia, Singapore leads the way in quantum computing research and development with the establishment of the National Quantum Computing Hub (NQCH).
Quantum computing and cybersecurity
While various use cases for quantum computing are being developed, cybersecurity is an area in which the technology can be utilized both for positive and negative purposes. A major worry for quantum computing is its potential to disrupt some of the existing encryption methods that rely on the complexity of factoring large numbers, such as RSA and ECC, posing a threat to the security of many systems and applications.
Consequently, cybercriminals are actively planning ways to exploit these new tools and are even contemplating hacking to decrypt data in the future, which is a significant concern for organizations dealing with critical and sensitive data.
Despite the risks, quantum computing offers the potential for new encryption methods that are impervious to quantum attacks, including lattice-based cryptography, code-based cryptography, and multivariate cryptography, all of which are grounded in mathematical problems that are challenging for quantum computers to solve.
Furthermore, quantum computing can support quantum-secure communications, such as quantum key distribution (QKD), a technique that uses quantum properties to generate and share secret keys between parties while ensuring their security against eavesdropping.
Quantum computing also has the potential to strengthen cybersecurity by enhancing the performance of various tasks such as malware detection, intrusion detection, anomaly detection, and network optimization through the use of quantum algorithms.
The challenges in APAC
More than 40 countries have some form of national initiative or strategy to support quantum technology development. According to the World Economic Forum’s Quantum Economy Blueprint report, many of these governments explicitly acknowledge a need to guide the ethical, social, legal, and economic implications of quantum technologies, including their impact on cybersecurity and the global financial system.
In Southeast Asia, Catherine Lian, GM and technology leader at IBM ASEAN, expressed significant concern over the potential for cybercriminals to steal data now for later decryption by quantum computers.
“Data securely protected today could be lost to a bad actor that gains access to a future cryptographically relevant quantum computer. These threats will apply to all data, systems, and technologies that are not made quantum-safe. And securing today’s data for tomorrow’s quantum risk should start today,” Lian emphasized.
Lian also highlighted IBM’s efforts to work with industry partners on quantum-safe cryptography to set new security standards and protocols that quantum computers cannot break.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US is expected to publish its first official standards for quantum computing, while organizations can take steps to become quantum-safe by identifying and understanding their current cryptography usage and developing a plan to transition to new post-quantum cryptography standards.
In Singapore, IBM and National Computer Systems (NCS) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to co-develop and provide end-to-end quantum-safe and privacy-enhancing services for public agencies and enterprises, addressing the vulnerability of data protected using public-key encryption.
IBM and quantum computing
IBM is undeniably a frontrunner in the development of quantum computing. Its products and services are being utilized by researchers, developers, and businesses to access and develop quantum technology.
This includes IBM Quantum Systems, which provides access to its quantum hardware, consisting of superconducting qubits, through the cloud. IBM has a fleet of over 100 quantum systems, with the most potent one having 127 qubits as of December 2023. IBM also plans to roll out a 4,000-qubit system by 2025.
Additionally, Qiskit, an open-source framework for quantum programming, enables users to create and run quantum circuits on IBM Quantum systems or simulators, featuring modules for quantum algorithms, quantum machine learning, quantum chemistry, and quantum optimization.
The IBM Quantum Network, a global community of partners, clients, and collaborators working together to advance quantum computing and explore its applications, includes over 250 members from various sectors.
For cybersecurity, IBM Quantum-Safe is a suite of solutions and services helping enterprises prepare for the quantum era and safeguard their data and communications from potential quantum attacks by utilizing IBM’s expertise in cryptography, quantum-resistant algorithms, and post-quantum encryption.
Ray Harishankar, IBM Fellow for IBM Quantum-Safe, expressed that some bad actors may not choose to utilize the power of quantum computing for positive purposes, so IBM is determined to ensure the world is quantum-safe.
“Quantum algorithms have been proven after years of study. Prime factorization, which was once considered to be unsolvable, or would take millions of years in computing time, can now be accomplished in hours. This poses a risk to today’s encryption,” Harishankar explained.
Current security protocols heavily rely on prime factorization, but Harishankar believes that quantum computers have broken this protocol. It is now possible to anticipate that there will soon be a powerful enough quantum computer to break encryption using Shor’s algorithm.
“That is why we say that today’s classic protocols will be obsolete tomorrow. And cryptography and encryption are paramount for any enterprise looking to protect their data from malicious actors,” Harishankar added.
IBM currently provides tools to safeguard infrastructure from potential cybersecurity issues, such as the IBM Quantum-Safe Explorer, which can be used on an ongoing basis to protect enterprises as they work to transition their cryptography to a quantum-safe standard.
“We believe that the time to start is now. Enterprises need to begin understanding the risks of quantum computing, particularly with respect to quantum-safety, and start creating an inventory of cryptography usage across the enterprise so they have a comprehensive view. If planned and executed properly, this can be done in a structured and incremental manner.
We can prioritize what needs to be done, and incrementally work with what they believe are the most valuable, vulnerable, or critical systems that they need to protect, and start from there. Eventually moving toward transformation with what we call crypto-agility, positioning themselves for future success,” he concluded.
Skills shortage is still a problem
Despite the many advancements in quantum computing, there is still a significant skills shortage in the industry. As quantum computing is still in its early stages and a very niche field, developing the talent to work with the technology will require time.
Countries like Singapore are already developing skill sets in the field through the National Quantum Computing Hub program. IBM is also contributing to quantum computing education by reaching over 8 million “quantum learners” worldwide.
Additionally, Keio University, the University of Tokyo, Yonsei University, Seoul National University, and the University of Chicago have announced a 10-year collaboration to prepare at least 40,000 students in Japan, South Korea, and the United States for the future quantum workforce.