Home Hi-Tech Could quantum computers be a threat to Canada’s cyber security?

Could quantum computers be a threat to Canada’s cyber security?


Quantum computers promise optimum security and privacy with blazing fast communication speeds; however, Canada’s cyberspy chief believes that while this technology has its uses, there are illegal applications as well that will put data of the entire world as well as communication systems in harms way.

Greta Bossenmaier, chief of the Communications Security Establishment, Canada, believes that with more and more development in the field of quantum computing, the clock has started ticking and soon hackers will be able to gain access to quantum computers thereby gaining insurmountable computing power to crack currently used encryption technologies. Quantum computers can be used to circumvent encryption technologies and thereby put sensitive information of people around the world in danger.

Bossenmaier’s words of warning come as the Liberal government consults Canadians on creating a new cybersecurity policy. State-sponsored hackers, sophisticated criminals, cause-motivated hacktivists and people out to make mischief online all pose a threat, officials say.

“Cyberthreats used to be the exclusive domain of nation states, and that’s certainly not the case anymore,” she said. “Cyberthreats come at companies, governments and other organizations from any number of sources and for any number of motivations.”

Simplicity in hacking has enabled even novice users to go about wreaking havoc in networks. Just by inserting a small pen drive into computers, they can be hacked and this effectively forces governments and organisations to reevaluate their security strategy.

“The insider threat is difficult to detect and can cause real damage.”

A federal briefing on the insider threat was delivered last December to leaders of the 10 most crucial infrastructure sectors, say the notes, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The notes point out that more than 90 per cent of critical infrastructure — key to delivering everything from food and clean water to banking and health services — is controlled by the private sector and all of it is dependent in one way or another on information technology to operate. Many critical infrastructure sectors are interdependent, meaning a problem in one could have a “cascading impact” in others.

There are two kinds of insider threats — those from people who intend to do harm and others from people who inadvertently damage vital systems, said Melissa Hathaway of the Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

Many companies and government agencies are banning thumb drives outright to avoid the accidental risk of infection, she told the conference.

“The bad guy who knows better and is doing it on purpose is much more concerning, and that’s what’s happening more and more.”

Public Safety is already working with critical infrastructure operators to prepare for the possibility of a major cyberattack on the Canadian electrical grid and telecommunications systems, the internal notes say.

Security officials call such an occurrence a “black swan” — a rare but devastating event that requires special attention due to the potential for massive losses should it happen.