In modern warfare, the most dangerous but guaranteeing form of deterrence is, no doubt, Nuclear Capability. The scale of damage it can cause forces the world powers to rethink about war. Whereas, in some cases, nuclear capable militaries guarantee their victory by nuclear threat. But with advancing computing strength and technology, we are moving towards another capability which can rival the guarantee of complete victory, but surprisingly without loss of innocent lives or irreparable damage. This “clean” alternative to nuclear capability could possibly be Quantum Computer.
What is a Quantum Computer?
Though a lengthy topic itself, I will briefly explain. Quantum Computer incorporates phenomena occurring at quantum levels, namely superposition and entanglement, to perform calculation or compute results. Quantum Computer is a computing machine which uses Qubits data rather than our regular bits to perform tasks, especially mathematical calculations. Where a regular computer would take years to perform a certain calculation, Quantum computer will do it in much lesser time. Thus exponentially increasing our ability of processing extremely large amounts of data, large numerical calculations and processing numerous probabilities for different events.
How does it affect cyber security?
We know that our computers use various algorithms for securing their information and communication. These algorithms are involved in the encryption of data. Mostly working on some sort of virtual lock and key mechanism, with the target machine having the means of decrypting the data. Passwords, data packets encryption, all of it has involvement of algorithms. One of the most popular algorithms is the RSA, the widely used and considered to be one of the most secure algorithms. Now to decrypt a packet of data or to crack a password encrypted by RSA, you need to do calculations that would span years, even decades to crack it, in meantime if the password is changed, you start from zero line again. But here is the catch, it is not impossible, it’s only extremely slow given our present computing power. Quantum Computer, exponentially, decreases the time for such a lengthy calculation, thus rendering most of the algorithms useless for encryption and security purposes. Until we figure out such an encryption algorithm that could work like RSA in qubits format of data, nearly every communication channel on internet along with every device can be hacked.
How Quantum Computer does that? Well it’s very technical to explain in this writing. It a topic for a completely separate discussion so I will not get into the technical details.
The consequence of a working Quantum Computer is that the country owning it can completely takeover the cyberspace of the rival. Both civilian and military cyber environments. Accessing bank networks, citizen’s information, military information, classified documents, enemy strategies and even the whole network centric war environment i.e. taking complete control of all or most of the enemy weapon systems from radars to communications, air defense to missile launchers, drones, jets, unmanned systems etc. Imagine military A and military B, if military A has a QC capability and military B doesn’t, then to achieve its military objectives, military A has to just take over the whole cyber space of military B, thus rendering them incapable of launching any assault or defending against assaults. The military B has to back down for survival. Military A achieves the objective without any threat to life of innocent civilians, which would not be the case if QC was swapped with Nuclear Capability.
It would be naïve to think that this capability will only be used to achieve military goals. Political goals, bullying at international level and pressuring incapable nations are also on the table. This can further lead to polarization throughout the globe. Even if International laws are made to counter the misuse of the capability, it is uncertain to claim that how much they will even affect world powers.
Now, the consequences stated above are easier said than done. But are highly possible. Though it can partially shift focus of war into cyber domain over our conventional domains and make conflict more bloodless, the down side of QC is that in can result in direct challenge to sovereignty and freedom of nations.
Though QC is an amazing leap in the technology of Computing. It will also compel us to write “New Generation Quantum Algorithms” thus advancing our algorithmic knowledge. It can help us solve the currently unsolvable mathematical problems, can help us define the mysteries of both macro and micro physical worlds. It can even further advance Artificial Intelligence and can be a game changer for betterment of human lives, research and development. But as good as it is, used for wrong purposes and it is equally destructive; not destroying life but challenging your sovereignty.