The Convergence of IoT and Quantum Computing
The Internet of Things (IoT) is actively shaping both the industrial and consumer worlds, and by 2023, consumers, companies, and governments will install 40 billion IoT devices globally. Smart tech finds its way to every business and consumer domain there is—from retail to healthcare, from finances to logistics—and a missed opportunity strategically employed by a competitor can easily qualify as a long-term failure for companies who don’t innovate.
Moreover, the 2020’s challenges just confirmed the need to secure all four components of the IoT Model: Sensors, Networks (Communications), Analytics (Cloud), and Applications .
One of the top candidates to help in securing IoT is Quantum Computing, while the idea of convergence of IoT and Quantum Computing is not a new topic, it was discussed in many works of literature and covered by various researchers, but nothing is close to practical applications so far. Quantum Computing is not ready yet, it is years away from deployment on a commercial scale.
To understand the complexity of this kind of convergence, first, you need to recognize the security issues of IoT, second, comprehend the complicated nature of Quantum Computing.
IoT system’s diverse security issues include :
- Data breaches – IoT applications collect a lot of user data, and most of it sensitive or personal, to operate and function correctly. As such, it needs encryption protection.
- Data authentication – Some devices may have adequate encryption in place but it can still be open to hackers if the authenticity of the data that is communicated to and from the IoT device cannot be authenticated.
- Side-channel attacks – Certain attacks focus on the data and information it can gain from a system’s implementation rather than vulnerabilities in the implementation’s algorithms.
- Irregular updates – Due to the rapid advances in the IoT industry, a device that may have been secure on its release may not be secure anymore if its software does not get updated regularly. Add to that the famous SolarWinds’s Supply Chain attack of 2020 which infected over 18,000 companies and government agencies using updates of office applications, and network monitoring tools.
- Malware and ransomware – Malware refers to the multitude of malicious programs that typically infects a device and influences its functioning whereas ransomware has the capabilities to lock a user out of their device, usually requesting a “ransom” to gain full use back again paid by cryptocurrency “Bitcoin”.
A Comparison of Classical and Quantum Computing
Classical computing relies, at its ultimate level, on principles expressed by a branch of math called Boolean algebra. Data must be processed in an exclusive binary state at any point in time or bits. While the time that each transistor or capacitor need be either in 0 or 1 before switching states is now measurable in billionths of a second, there is still a limit as to how quickly these devices can be made to switch state. As we progress to smaller and faster circuits, we begin to reach the physical limits of materials and the threshold for classical laws of physics to apply. Beyond this, the quantum world takes over.
In a quantum computer, several elemental particles such as electrons or photons can be used with either their charge or polarization acting as a representation of 0 and/or 1. Each of these particles is known as a quantum bit, or qubit, the nature and behavior of these particles form the basis of quantum computing .
Quantum Superposition and Entanglement
The two most relevant aspects of quantum physics are the principles of superposition and entanglement.
- Superposition: Think of a qubit as an electron in a magnetic field. The electron’s spin may be either in alignment with the field, which is known as a spin-up state or opposite to the field, which is known as a spin-down state. According to quantum law, the particle enters a superposition of states, in which it behaves as if it were in both states simultaneously. Each qubit utilized could take a superposition of both 0 and 1.
- Entanglement: Particles that have interacted at some point retain a type of connection and can be entangled with each other in pairs, in a process known as correlation. Knowing the spin state of one entangled particle – up or down – allows one to know that the spin of its mate is in the opposite direction. Quantum entanglement allows qubits that are separated by incredible distances to interact with each other instantaneously (not limited to the speed of light). No matter how great the distance between the correlated particles, they will remain entangled as long as they are isolated.
Taken together, quantum superposition and entanglement create an enormously enhanced computing power. Where a 2-bit register in an ordinary computer can store only one of four binary configurations (00, 01, 10, or 11) at any given time, a 2-qubit register in a quantum computer can store all four numbers simultaneously, because each qubit represents two values. If more qubits are added, the increased capacity is expanded exponentially .
One of the most exciting avenues that researchers, armed with qubits, are exploring, is communications security.
Quantum security leads us to the concept of quantum cryptography which uses physics to develop a cryptosystem completely secure against being compromised without the knowledge of the sender or the receiver of the messages.
Essentially, quantum cryptography is based on the usage of individual particles/waves of light (photon) and their intrinsic quantum properties to develop an unbreakable cryptosystem (because it is impossible to measure the quantum state of any system without disturbing that system.)
Quantum cryptography uses photons to transmit a key. Once the key is transmitted, coding, and encoding using the normal secret-key method can take place. But how does a photon become a key? How do you attach information to a photon's spin?
This is where binary code comes into play. Each type of a photon's spin represents one piece of information -- usually a 1 or a 0, for binary code. This code uses strings of 1s and 0s to create a coherent message. For example, 11100100110 could correspond with h-e-l-l-o. So a binary code can be assigned to each photon -- for example, a photon that has a vertical spin ( | ) can be assigned a 1.
Regular, non-quantum encryption can work in a variety of ways but, generally, a message is scrambled and can only be unscrambled using a secret key. The trick is to make sure that whomever you’re trying to hide your communication from doesn’t get their hands on your secret key. But such encryption techniques have their vulnerabilities. Certain products – called weak keys – happen to be easier to factor than others. Also, Moore’s Law continually ups the processing power of our computers. Even more importantly, mathematicians are constantly developing new algorithms that allow for easier factorization of the secret key.
Quantum cryptography avoids all these issues. Here, the key is encrypted into a series of photons that get passed between two parties trying to share secret information. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle dictates that an adversary can’t look at these photons without changing or destroying them .
Quantum Computing and IoT
With its capabilities, quantum computing can help address the challenges and issues that hamper the growth of IoT. Some of these capabilities are :
- Optimized complex computation power: With Quantum Computing the speed is incredibly high, IoT benefits from this speed since IoT devices generate a massive amount of data that requires heavy computation and other complex optimization.
- Faster validation and verification process: Quantum computing addresses that concern as it can speed up the verification and validation process across all the systems several times faster while ensuring constant optimization of the systems.
- More secure communications: A more secure communication is possible through quantum cryptography as explained before. The complexity serves as a defense against cyberattacks including data breaches, authentication, and malware, and ransomware.
The Road Ahead
Quantum computing is still in its development stage with tech giants such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft putting in resources to build powerful quantum computers. While they were able to build machines containing more and more qubits, for example, Google announced in 2019 they achieved “Quantum Supremacy”, the challenge is to get these qubits to operate smoothly and with less error. But with the technology being very promising, continuous research and development are expected until such time that it reaches widespread practical applications for both consumers and businesses .
IoT is expanding as we depend on our digital devices more every day. Furthermore, WFH (Work From Home) concept resulted from COVID-19 lockdowns accelerated the deployment of many IoT devices and shorten the learning curves of using such devices. When IoT converges with Quantum Computing under “Quantum IoT” or QIoT, that will push other technologies to use Quantum Computing and add “Quantum” or “Q” to their products and services labels, we will see more adoption of Quantum hardware and software applications in addition to Quantum services like QSaaS, QIaaS, and QPaaS as parts of Quantum Cloud and QAI (Quantum Artificial Intelligence) to mention few examples.
Ahmed Banafa has extensive experience in research, operations and management, with a focus on IoT, Blockchain, Cybersecurity and AI. He is the recipient of Certificate of Honor from the City and County of San Francisco, Author & Artist Award 2019 of San Jose State University. He was named as No.1 tech voice to follow, technology fortune teller and influencer by LinkedIn in 2018 by LinkedIn, his research featured on Forbes, IEEE and MIT Technology Review, and Interviewed by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, BBC, NPR and Fox. He is a member of the MIT Technology Review Global Panel. He is the author of the books: “Secure and Smart Internet of Things (IoT) using Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI)”, and “Blockchain Technology and Applications”. Follow him on LinkedIN.
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