Preparing for quantum computing and future cyber threat challenges

Futurist Edgar Perez talks to PrivSec Report about quantum computing, AI and the perennial threat of cybercrime.

Early sociologist Max Weber once said that the modern world is persistent in its pursuit of advancement and innovation, and the future-oriented sensibility of science would go on ‘ad infinitum.’ According to his writing, humans are innately oriented towards the future and are driven by presuppositions about advancements in the social domain, during the present. 

Edgar Perez, one of the world’s foremost experts on cybersecurity, demonstrates this in his everyday work; he is a published author of works including AI Breakthrough and Knightmare on Wall Street, and council member at multiple quantum computing and AI consultancy groups. 

Ahead of his PrivSec Global keynote session, Perez spoke with PrivSec about the race towards quantum computing and shares his insights into how the world’s leading companies are changing their business models to leverage technical change.

Unafraid to say on Taiwan Today that robots may in fact take over part of your job at some point in the future – particularly if your job involves manual repetitive tasks – Perez shows he is not cautious of vocalising his expectations of the role of technology currently, and in years to come. 

“Every industry could employ more creativity. If you think about the iPhone example, for instance, it is not enough anymore to be the manufacturer of the iPhone. You need to think about the next step, creating the new iPhone; creating the next application; the next device; the next sensor,” Perez adds.

“Data breaches have been happening for decades and unfortunately, we still are not able to fully handle these. Why? Because technology moves so fast.

Known to the field as one of the leading cybersecurity “futurists”, Perez is well placed to describe the rapidly evolving cyberthreat landscape, and the potential of bleeding edge technologies to change the game completely for a lot of industries, including cybersecurity. One of these technologies is quantum computing, which Perez explains on his blog:

“With classical computers there are only two options – on and off – for processing information. A computer ‘bit’, the smallest unit into which all information is broken down, is either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’. In the mysterious subatomic realm of quantum physics, particles can act like waves, so that they can be particle or wave or particle and wave. This is what’s known in quantum mechanics as superposition.” 

He adds: “As a result of superposition a qubit can be a 0 or 1 or 0 and 1. That means it can perform two equations at the same time. Two qubits can perform four equations. And three qubits can perform eight, and so on in an exponential expansion. That leads to some inconceivably large numbers, not to mention some mind-boggling working concepts.”

In his interview with PrivSec Report, Perez said the reason why we see so many opportunities where hackers are able to steal information from companies is because management has often not been “proactive” in cleaning up their security hygiene and building releases. But he continues, “Data breaches have been happening for decades and unfortunately, we still are not able to fully handle these. Why? Because technology moves so fast.”

He continues: “With any new software, as much as developers try to give you a bug-free product, that is not always possible. Well-funded hackers are going to always look for holes. It is a perennial battle that we’re facing every day with hackers from different countries and different organizations. That’s something that is not going to never stop.”

But proving Max Weber’s point that science will always seek to surpass itself, “things will be taking a different direction soon”, Perez says, “because now the world’s leading technology companies are developing a new computing paradigm based on the rules of quantum mechanics. Quantum computing is set to revolutionize business models while at the same time disrupt the most widely available cybersecurity protections today.”

Big Tech companies such as Google, IBM and Microsoft are “racing to build” the world’s first quantum computer, but Perez says one is not likely to appear soon. “We’re still looking at the birth of quantum computing; a measure of their growing power comes from the number of qubits they can effectively manage. For now, Google’s 72-qubit processor is the leader. However, IBM is already planning to have a 1,000-qubit device by 2023.”

Qubits – the basic unit of quantum information – are being experimented with by researchers all over the world. In the Big Tech race towards what Google calls “quantum supremacy”, Google seems to be in the lead with their winning chip, “Sycamore”, which demonstrated in October 2019 that it could perform a task that would be practically impossible on a classical machine.

The revelation caused a stir in Silicon Valley, and IBM – Google’s biggest rival in the development of a quantum computer – accused Google of not focusing on the bigger, more practical picture. 

“Quantum computing is set to revolutionize business models while at the same time disrupt the most widely available cybersecurity protections today.”

Despite the quarrels, Google did demonstrate a quantum computer outperforming a traditional one at one specific task. The next step is to find more potential useful tasks for quantum computing to perform. Perez says, “We expect that in the next decade, quantum computing will create a similar type of revolution. That’s just because there’s a new way to process mundane information.”

Though the body of scientific laws underpinning quantum mechanics has been recognised since the turn of the century, Perez explains that only now are quantum computing engineers able to create potential applications to process information in a new way, or “change the properties of how nature works in the micro environment”.

He explains that in five to ten years we will see working prototypes from Big Tech where models will be produced that may be applicable for a variety of purposes, such as quick processing and portfolio management systems, or even predicting the financial markets.

But Perez warns that quantum computing will bring with it what scientists have described as a “different kind of threat”. It can and will be used in nefarious ways if, Perez says, “the wrong people have access to it to break today’s seemingly unbreakable encryption mechanisms.” The threat does not necessarily exist yet, he reminds us, but urges the cybersecurity industry to “protect its data and prepare for the risks ahead, perhaps bringing about the breakthroughs that will enable widespread quantum cryptography.”

Using counter-terrorism as an example, Perez says quantum computing has the potential to dramatically change and enhance counter-terror operational capabilities, but it also presents new challenges.

“Terrorists are using new technologies, like digital communications and unmanned aerial vehicles, to plan and execute attacks, and tend to adopt them at the same pace as society as a whole,” he writes on his blog. “For terror groups, the internet is now firmly established as a key medium for the distribution of propaganda, radicalisation of sympathisers and preparation of attacks.”

But he says, in areas such as artificial intelligence and cryptography, quantum computing is sure to transform the landscape, “perhaps bringing about the breakthrough that will enable machines to ‘think’ with the nuance and interpretative skill of humans.”

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