On May 4, U.S. President Joe Biden signed two directives intended to address national and economic security concerns posed by the rapid development of quantum computing technology.
“Together, the two directives lay the groundwork for continued American leadership in an enormously promising field of science and technology, while mitigating the risks that quantum computers pose to America’s national and economic security,” reads a White House statement on the matter.
A senior Biden administration official said that the U.S. has “long been a global leader” in the development of new technologies, including quantum, a broad field of science and engineering.
Quantum computers are not a replacement for traditional computers however they promise to handle data in vastly different ways and their development and use could herald a new era in information sciences impacting nearly every industry including logistics, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.
According to an official, the directives are an effort to move to “post-quantum cryptography” with the intent of surpassing other nations in the field, like China, and to protect national security from adversaries using quantum computers.
A major promise, and threat of quantum computing technology concerns cryptography.
According to the Quantum Strategy Institute (QSI), “The abundant research and development being applied to quantum computing promises to launch a whole new universe of computing security considerations.”
The security consideration that is top of mind for many is just how easily quantum computers can theoretically break encryption.
According to an M.I.T. Technology Review, published in May, 2019, “Modern encryption methods are specifically designed so that decoding them would take so long they are practically unbreakable,” by classical computers however, “These machines [quantum computers] are far more powerful than classical computers and should be able to break these codes with ease.”
To address the risk, the White House said the National Institute of Standards and Technology will publish new quantum resistant cryptographic standards that can counteract these potential future attacks.
For the Biden Administration, China’s progress in QIS may be alarming.
It’s since been reported that last October, China’s 66-qubit Zuchongzhi 2 quantum processor reportedly completed the same task 1 million times faster.
In addition, a Chinese team, also in October, reported that its light-based Jiuzhang 2 processor could complete a task in one millisecond that a conventional computer would require 30 trillion years to finish.
Quantum computing progressing double exponentially
The classical computer’s development over the years typically adhered to what is known as Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles about every two years, while the cost of computers is halved in the same time. This trend was observed for decades.
Quantum computers on the other hand have been developing at an incredible pace, double exponentially, a rate that has been called Neven’s Law, named after the Google researcher who first noticed the trend.
In the face of this rapid advancement the Biden Administration is focusing on building collaboration between the Federal government and the private sector.
The executive orders directs NIST to establish a “Migration to Post-Quantum Cryptography Project” at the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, as well as to establish “an open working group with industry to generate research on, and encourage widespread, equitable adoption of, quantum-resilient cryptographic standards and technologies.”
In addition it “sets requirements for Federal agencies to update cryptographic systems,” and provides a roadmap for agencies to inventory their I.T. systems, with a requirement to set and meet specific milestones.
Doing so is intended to help ensure that Federal agencies receive the support they need to fully and effectively protect their networks from future exploitation by U.S. adversaries.
Ultimately the White House wants to protect sensitive U.S. technologies from falling into the wrong hands.
“The NSM recognizes the importance of protecting critical technology from theft and abuse,” reads the White House statement.
The White House is directing Federal agencies “to develop comprehensive plans to safeguard American intellectual property, research and development, and other sensitive technology from acquisition by America’s adversaries, and to educate industry and academia on the threats they face.”