Tech Tips #12: A quantum of protection?
14 March 2024

Tech Tips #12: A quantum of protection?

14 March 2024

At the outset, let’s be absolutely clear: quantum computing remains a long way off becoming mainstream – and it offers promise to enrich many industries and sectors. Yet, it’s such a fast-moving area – and one that touches telecoms networks in profound ways – that we can’t resist spending time in one of our Tech Tips discussing the topic. Make no mistake – it’s coming; it’s just a matter of when.

So, that said, what are we talking about here? Quantum computing essentially extends the conventional computing model – which is based on bits – to one based on qubits. While bits can exist in two states, but only one at any given moment, qubits can exist in both states at the same time. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s all we need to know right now.

This means that a quantum computer can, potentially process massively more information – faster – than a conventional computational system. That sounds great, but the first thing to note is that quite a few people are rather worried about that. Why – and should we be too?

The main reason for this is growing concern that quantum computers could be used for nefarious purposes – using their vastly enhanced processing power to hack networks, target critical infrastructure, and generally disrupt communications networks globally. At present, it’s believed that any such threat would not stem from individuals, or organised crime as such, but rather from state actors. Even so, it may well be a cause for concern in the future.

Quantum risk. Overblown or real?

Much of the focus has been on encryption systems and their resistance to attack. We wrote in an earlier Tech Tip about the quantum-safe SIM but, more generally, the industry is looking towards what’s known as “Post Quantum Cryptography” or PQC. PQC is an area of active research, as scientists consider ways to protect against quantum threats and to protect critical infrastructure[1].

The fact that, for example, millions of smart meters have been deployed around Europe – and most of these are equipped with a SIM of one form or another, has concentrated minds rather. As the TMF has noted, there’s a general recognition that ‘Q2K’ – a neat reference to the so-called millennium bug – is a real threat and that ‘something must be done’.

So, with that in mind. Should we be generally concerned? At the moment, everyone is pretty much in the same boat. Research is ongoing but there are very few commercial applications for quantum computing yet and it’s beyond the means of most.

Frankly, there’s a lot of speculation here (partly because quantum sounds impressive and a bit science ‘fiction-y’), as Arthur D Little notes in a recent research report[2]. Put simply, yes, we should be concerned – but we shouldn’t be worried too much today. Indeed, Arthur D Little goes further, suggesting that the solution lies in the very fabric that may generate these threat – quantum computing:

“…quantum computers also offer potentially the best route to provide new security approaches. Quantum key-exchange protocols will increase security by ensuring that communications cannot be hacked. QC can be used to generate unique identification features that are difficult to forge, such as keywords, quantum biometrics, and quantum signatures. Quantum processing can also be used to perform data-sensitive operations efficiently while keeping data protected. Finally, QC will support innovative approaches to fraud detection and cyberattacks.

Does that mean things will be just fine?

Not necessarily – as we noted, there’s a lot of speculation right now – and simply hoping that quantum computing will solve the problem isn’t really a strategy. But there’s probably a grain of truth in this point. After all, if the threat is enabled by enhanced computing, then enhanced computing can also provide a defence.

But, it’s an issue that we – as an operator with network assets takes very seriously. Just because the threat isn’t here yet doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Indeed, while quantum computing has yet to deliver the ‘quantum advantage’, that point isn’t so very far away – and when it’s passed, growth will be very rapid indeed.

So, what can we do – today – to manage this uncertainty? The most important thing to do is to understand what vulnerabilities might exist. We can’t know what we might need to defend without a complete overview of all assets, so for Telecom26 – like any operator – re-evaluating all security zones and systems in the light of new potential threats will be essential.

Of course, we do this all the time – it’s part of our normal operations, so this isn’t a new requirement – but it will be for many service providers that lack the technical resources and expertise to do so. And, quite apart from quantum, new acts like NIS2 are forcing providers of critical infrastructure to reimplement security processes. So, while quantum remains some way off, we’re already getting ahead of the curve.

Where are we going?

It’s clear that quantum computing is coming our way – but not quickly. The Global Risk Institute runs an annual survey of experts – the Quantum Threat Timeline[3]. Widely cited, this is a respected publication that takes a sober approach to the overall risks – risks which others are happy to overstate.

One key threat is analysed in the research – the likelihood that RSA-2048 (a public-key crypto system based on semi-prime numbers) will be broken by a quantum-enabled computer within a 24-hour period. According to this research, the key time horizon here is 10 years from now – the point at which the quantum threat is reckoned to become real. So, we have time to go – and time to prepare. For example, one major US carrier has said it will be ‘quantum ready’ by 2025. What does that mean? Simply to have carried out its risk assessments and to have plotted a route map for the future.

So, the message is – don’t worry. Not only are we investing to ensure that we protect our networks and clients, but the industry is also building up to this too. And, you can expect national regulators, security agencies and the like to lead the way in preparing defences and more, across every industry. It is still very early days, but we are already plotting our pathway to the era of quantum computing.

Telecom26 – building the secure network of the future

Security is integral to our business. We run one of the most secure networks globally, built for demanding B2B customers. We provide additional levels of security to protect our customers and their devices, which go above and beyond standard offers from traditional mobile network operators.

We’re tracking developments and working with our peers in key industry organisations, like the GSMA, to ensure that we take all necessary steps to evolve our network to counter new threats – not only from quantum-enabled villains, but from others that emerge from more conventional sources.

This is a process of continuous optimisation – because no threat stands still. Unlike other providers, we’re always open to discuss our security measures and safeguards, as well as our plans to strengthen them. When you choose Telecom26, you get a partner that understands security and takes care of your business. It’s our future – and yours.





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