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Physical security and quantum computing

Posted by on October 3, 2016.

There is probably not a great deal that quantum computing can do to benefit physical security. As previously noted, biometrics may be improved, and these are being increasingly used for physical access control. Control of certain alarm systems might benefit from pattern recognition capabilities: for example, fire alarm systems with a complex set of different types of sensors. Those charged with physical security should, however, be aware of the new demands and requirements that quantum computing will place on the plant environment.

As has also been mentioned in prior discussions, a number of proposed quantum devices are highly susceptible to radio-frequency and electromagnetic interference. Specially constructed computer rooms will probably return as some of these computing systems are introduced. Faraday cages and other TEMPEST measures may also come back into prominence. These elements would not be used to preclude emanations from disclosing information, but to prevent noise from corrupting data and processing.

We have always had to pay attention to air conditioning and refrigeration requirements for computers, but quantum computers have entirely different needs in this realm. Many quantum devices require operating temperatures near absolute zero, either for superconductivity or other physical effects. Room temperature, which is quite suitable for normal computer equipment, is about a hundred times greater than the temperature in interstellar space. Interstellar space, as cold as it is, is a thousand times too hot for the proper operation of the D-Wave Systems Orion computer, for example.

There is some irony in the fact that these computers may have extremely small power requirements in terms of the information processing itself, but will demand huge refrigerators to keep operating near absolute zero. On the other hand, when ENIAC was built, it was famous in business and academic circles for being the largest computer constructed up to that time–and in physical plant communities for having the largest refrigeration system ever put in one place.

Power supplies will have to be regulated with regard to emanations and radio frequency interference, in order to prevent corruption of processing. However, the constancy of power supplies will also be an issue. For a traditional computer, a power outage will lose some data and processing. Under some proposed quantum computer architectures, loss of power could mean the loss of the processing unit itself.

In the near term, as quantum devices begin to come onstream, they will be extremely expensive pieces of equipment, with special requirements that are poorly understood. (For example, the gate level operations of these devices are poorly understood even by their designers, and undoubtedly we will discover failure modes under unusual conditions.) Initially, the advantages to a company that is running an application supported by quantum processing will make it distinctive in the marketplace. However, the failure of that device will also jeopardize the special place of the company, and will create yet another possible point of failure. Therefore, special attention must be paid to the creation of definite controls and protections which will guard the devices not only against attacks, but also against carelessness and ignorant usage.

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Submitted in: Expert Views, Insights, Perspectives, Rob Slade, Security |