There is a move afoot—and it’s making significant progress—to develop and deploy a quantum computing Internet.
A group led by the US Department of Energy and the University of Chicago plans to develop a nationwide quantum internet that could be functional in about a decade and with the potential to securely transmit sensitive information related to national security and financial services.
“What we’re moving forward on is building out quantum networks [to] someday…turn into a full second internet, a parallel internet to the digital internet,” said Paul Dabbar, the Energy Department’s Under Secretary for Science.
That would be terrific if it actually comes to fruition. Especially this part:
“Literally anything that would be transmitted encrypted today would be suitable for the quantum internet in the future,” Mr [JPMorgan Chase & Co’s Managing Director, Head of Research and Engineering, Marco] Pistoia said in an email.
Of course, that includes the personal and business correspondence of US citizens.
A problem I have with such a development, though, is this:
“A quantum network, because of physics, is by definition completely secure,” Mr Dabbar said.
No. A quantum network is not the network to end all networks. Such a network is not because of physics…by definition completely secure.
A quantum network is completely secure because of physics as we understand physics today. Security is, and always will be, an arms race between the cryptographers and their evolutions on the one hand, and the hackers and their evolutions on the other.
The biggest threat to security is just this sort of complacency.
There are other problems, and they are not unique to quantum networks, either. One such is a basic denial of service attack, where the hacker doesn’t care a single bit about encryption—at least not directly—but only in denying user access to the network or any node on it. The motive for that denial may be petty vandalism, “protest,” extortion—give me that document you’ve got encrypted on your quantum subnet (so much for quantum encryption)—to any number of other not yet imagined reasons.
Another is the phishing expedition wherein an employee is suckered into taking some action that grants the hacker access to the network.
Then there’s that personal communication secrecy—a citizen’s wish to keep his private communications private, including from the prying eyes of Government. Quantum network use would extend the tension between a citizen’s right to keep private things private and Government’s often entirely legitimate, even urgent, need to know. That, though, is just part of the noise of republican democracy.
By all means, develop and deploy the quantum Internet; it would be a huge step forward in data protection. Sooner is better.
But don’t be complacent about its security. And don’t let up on the need to protect against other forms of attack.