April 15, 2024

Protecting the world’s most critical networks from Q-Day

Protecting the world's most critical networks from Q-Day

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Quantum computing offers nearly limitless possibilities for advances in industries ranging from finance to energy to healthcare. These incredibly powerful computers can solve problems in minutes that would take even the largest conventional supercomputers millennia.

While the benefits of this type of computing power are enormous, the risks are equally great if malicious actors gain access to that same quantum power. It is vital that providers of all mission-critical networks prepare now for that eventuality.

What is quantum computing?

Conventional computers are based on the binary concept that electrical signals can be on or off, which is traditionally expressed in ones and zeros. From the first computers that ran programs from physical punch cards to today’s smart watches, all have used coding languages ​​based on binary calculations.

Quantum computers are based on the principles of quantum mechanics, which allow many states between on and off. We are not even limited to one state at a time. This means that these computers can not only perform their tasks much faster than conventional binary computers, but they can also perform multiple processes at once, increasing their capacity and speed exponentially.

This offers great opportunities for mission-critical industries. Mining, oil and gas companies can quickly and accurately determine the best places to drill, reducing costly and invasive exploratory excavations. Energy companies can better understand weather patterns and the impact of climate change and make usage predictions to prepare the grid in advance to avoid outages. The aerospace industry can achieve major advances faster, being able to perform highly complex analyzes at unprecedented speed. Defense organizations can use quantum sensing for deep-sea navigation, surveillance and reconnaissance. Emergency services organizations can greatly improve preparedness through more accurate advance notification of natural disasters. Research and education networks dedicated to solving some of humanity’s greatest challenges, from climate change to disease and world hunger, can perform calculations that are impossible today and accelerate important breakthrough innovations.

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Who uses quantum technology now?

Today’s quantum computers are highly specialized equipment that requires precise calibration and extreme cooling. That puts them out of reach for most organizations. The few quantum computers that have been built so far are owned by companies like IBM or large government entities. The power of current quantum computers is used for scientific and research purposes.

However, as demand for quantum computing increases in the private sector, more companies are likely to purchase or lease capacity through an as-a-service model. Some innovators are also producing quantum annealers: smaller machines that are less powerful than large-scale quantum computers, but still offer much of the functionality businesses are looking for.

Since 2021, Japanese manufacturers Toyota, Mitsubishi Chemical and ten other organizations have been sharing costs and using quantum computing to solve advanced problems, innovate materials for industrial applications, and execute autonomous vehicle scenarios as we prepare for the next generation of mobility. Mercedes-Benz uses quantum computing to accelerate the performance of batteries in future electric vehicles.

US banks are running advanced financial calculations. Researchers at Fraunhofer and the Cleveland Clinic are sequencing the human genome faster than ever. Quantum has even been used to accelerate the study of treatments against COVID-19. And CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, is using quantum computing to analyze data from the Large Hadron Collider and accelerate our understanding of how the universe works.

Hack at quantum speed

The current encryption mechanisms used to protect network data in flight were developed to protect against an adversary using a conventional computer. Until now, these mechanisms were considered strong enough to protect sensitive data because these computers cannot break the encryption within a practically useful period of time.

It would take thousands of years to try every possible key combination. But with a quantum computer, a brute force attack can break most encryptions in a matter of minutes. Just as quantum computers can compute at speed, access to technology in the wrong hands means bad actors can also hack at quantum speed.

Launching such an attack requires a cryptographically relevant quantum computer (CRQC): a quantum computer large enough and equipped with the software necessary to crack the asymmetric ciphers typically used in encryption today. The good news is that there is no such computer… still. But it is only a matter of time before a CRQC is developed. This moment is known as Q Day – and although some experts believe its arrival will be most likely by 2030, based on recent events many experts predict it could arrive sooner.

The potential for disaster when Q-Day arrives is substantial. With standard encryption protections disabled, all networks will become vulnerable to attack. Malicious actors could cripple the world’s mission-critical networks, such as power grids and water utility systems, with potentially deadly consequences, in a matter of seconds. Financial markets could be disrupted, causing turbulence in economies. Vital medical systems and research could be disrupted, causing irreparable damage to life-saving drugs, vaccines and other treatments, sending advances back to the drawing board.

But the risk doesn’t start on Q-Day. Bad actors can “harvest” encrypted data now (even if they can’t do anything with it) and simply hold on to it until they can decrypt it with a CRQC. It is imperative that we begin protecting mission-critical data from quantum hacking now.

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Is it even possible to protect networks from quantum hacking?

Yes. Fortunately, secure quantum networking technology already exists.

A symmetrical, centralized Classic Key Distribution Network (CKDN) is a way to share secure keys separately from encrypted data, making it difficult for hackers to acquire both pieces needed to access the data. This technology has been used for several years and is an important element of quantum security. But it is only effective for certain types of network connections and must be complemented by other tools and technologies.

Scaling up quantum security will require a multifaceted approach. Quantum keys, which use quantum mechanics as the source of key material and are transmitted over a quantum key distribution network (QKDN), are currently being developed and will provide another layer of security.

Cryptographers are also working on post-quantum asymmetric encryptions, designed to resist quantum attacks. A future secure quantum ecosystem will include these three elements: CKDN, quantum keys and post-quantum encryption, as well as other technologies that have not even been thought of yet. The goal is to always be one step ahead.

The quantum threat cannot be ignored and outdated networking technologies or the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality simply won’t work. Modernized networking technologies with built-in quantum security mechanisms will help. Nokia has been at the forefront of quantum-safe optical networking research, integrating CKDN into our solutions for years. We are currently the only network provider offering a quantum security solution for our customers, and we continue to work with partners around the world on QKD testing and other innovations to ensure that when Q-Day arrives, their mission-critical networks are ready.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

James Watt He is vice president and general manager of Nokia’s optical networks division. Prior to this, James was vice president and general manager of the services business unit, IP/optical networks, at Nokia and his predecessor at Alcatel-Lucent, president of the optical business line at Alcatel-Lucent and chief technology officer ( CTO). from the Carrier Alcatel-Lucent product group. Until 2008, James served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Alcatel-Lucent’s IP Business Division and had previously served as Vice President of Network Strategy for Alcatel. James joined Alcatel in 2000 as Chief Technology Officer of the Carrier Interconnection Division through the acquisition of Newbridge Networks, where he was Deputy Vice President of Network and Access Management Strategy. During his 15 years at Newbridge, James held a variety of positions within the research and development, product management and marketing organizations. James holds multiple patents, primarily in the areas of traffic management and Internet Protocol. He received a B.SC. in Electrical Engineering from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario in 1986.

Chris Johnson is Senior Vice President and Global Head of Enterprise at Nokia. A veteran sales and business leader, Chris focuses on delivering mission-critical networking solutions to the world’s most essential industries. He is a passionate advocate of industrial digitalization for businesses and government organizations, with a deep understanding of how innovative and intuitive digital technologies can bring resilience, productivity, efficiency and sustainability to any operation. Drawing on his experience defining business strategies, developing teams, executing initiatives and driving profitable growth, Chris helps Nokia Enterprise customers harness the exponential potential of networks to unlock new business models and develop capabilities for long-term success. term.

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