White House Targets Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Risks

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President Joe Biden has signed two forward looking executive orders aimed at protecting the nation’s critical IT systems from the potential threat of cybersecurity breaches using quantum computing, an evolving technology that can run exponentially faster than today’s systems and perform multiple computations at once.

Washington is in a race with foreign adversaries, including Beijing, to develop quantum technology that could advance artificial intelligence, driving innovations from energy to medicine and beyond, and other positive uses but also potentially deployed in code-cracking cyber warfare. Still, even though other countries are pouring untold millions into quantum computing, the technology is in its developing stages and is not imminent from being deployed at scale.

In one executive order intended to address the risks posed by quantum computers to the nation’s cybersecurity, Biden has signed a National Security Memorandum ordering the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to publish new quantum-resistant cryptographic standards that can protect against future attacks.

“Research shows that at some point in the not-too-distant future, when quantum computers reach a sufficient size and level of sophistication, they will be capable of breaking much of the cryptography that currently secures our digital communications on the Internet,” the White House said in a fact sheet. The process to transition America’s critical IT infrastructure networks and systems will “take time, resources, and commitment. America must start the lengthy process of updating our IT infrastructure today to protect against this quantum computing threat tomorrow.”

According to a White House fact sheet, the National Security Memorandum:

  • Establishes a policy to promote quantum-relevant education programs and workforce development initiatives and encourages the strengthening of partnerships with industry, academic institutions, and allies and partners overseas.
  • Directs NIST to establish a “Migration to Post-Quantum Cryptography Project” at the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, as well as an open working group with industry.
  • Sets requirements for Federal agencies to update cryptographic systems by inventorying their IT systems, with a requirement to set and meet specific milestones.
  • Directs Federal agencies to develop comprehensive plans to safeguard American intellectual property, research and development, and other sensitive technology from acquisition by America’s adversaries.

In a second executive order designed to bolster the National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee, the government’s independent expert advisory body for quantum information science and technology, Biden has ordered the committee to report directly to the White House in a move to keep the executive branch, Congress, federal departments and agencies and the general public fully apprised of the latest developments in quantum computing.

The Committee will consist of the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy with not more than 26 members as appointed by the President. The committee, which will be overseen by two co-chairs, is tasked with issuing recommendations to the President when reviewing and revising quantum computing policy. The committee will meet twice annually.

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