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The Future of Cybersecurity: Quantum Internet, Quantum Security

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This is the final part of a series on security trends in recognition of Cybersecurity Awareness Month throughout October. Each week this month, we’ve been looking at major trends affecting cybersecurity, and we’re wrapping up this week by looking to the future of the industry.

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Today, the industry approach to cybersecurity is reactionary at best: organizations address vulnerabilities as they come and do their best to plug as many holes as possible. But there is potential that in the next 10-20 years, we will be able to move from a reactionary, fill-each-vulnerability approach to a proactive, leap-ahead approach with the introduction and implementation of Quantum Internet.

What is Quantum Internet? The Quantum Internet can be best understood by comparing it to the Internet as we know it today. In the current state of the Internet and how it functions, there is no real way to stop the bad actors and their malware at the physical or bit level. A data bit registers either the value 0 or 1; it is either on or off. If a hacker makes changes to these bits, it will go unnoticed.

However, Quantum Internet offers the potential to create security at the bit level as opposed to higher up the OSI layer. In the quantum world, quantum bits, or “qubits,” can have multiple states at the same time; that is, a quantum bit can register 0 and 1 simultaneously. More importantly, when a quantum bit assumes the value of 0 and 1 simultaneously, an exact copy of that quantum bit cannot be copied or altered without the sender being made aware of it. If a copy was made of the quantum bit, the state of the bit would change. This is known as the no-cloning theorem.

By using the Quantum Internet, intrusions at the bit level would be detected and revealed immediately. With this, Internet users would have complete privacy, or at least be made aware when the conversation was no longer private. Concerns around topics like Digital Rights Management, for example, would be a non-issue, as content providers would know if their data had been copied by illegitimate users.

How real is this? Today, quantum channels already exist that establish communications links for financial institutions and other entities which require virtually unbreakable security connections. However, this technology has already been in production for more than five years. The Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Sandia Labs, part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have developed a quantum mechanical transistor that can run at a trillion operations per second.

A recent experiment conducted by a team of Harvard physicists achieved quantum entanglement (the linking of two different atoms, where one takes on the properties of the other) of photons which were held in solid-state materials. The importance of this experiment is significant in that it increases the feasibility of routing qubits by making it scalable. In past studies, qubits were stored in gaseous vacuum chambers, which is not practical for widespread adoption.

This entanglement phenomenon allows the distribution of quantum information over thousands of miles. This is a major step towards creating the building blocks required for the Quantum Internet, as this experiment shows how qubits can communicate with each other over long distances.

Of course, with the introduction of the Quantum Internet, technology as we know it would change radically. We would need quantum RAM and quantum routers. Our applications would change as well: we would need quantum databases, and our software would need to be able to understand qubits as opposed to standard bits today. But it might all be worth it, as quantum computing and quantum networking could, in theory, put an end to privacy issues and hacking.

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