Science 3 min read

Is the Quantum Internet Terrorist-Proof?

A Quantum Internet could fundamentally change our society -- but it could leave us dangerously vulnerable. | BarbaraJackson / Pixabay

A Quantum Internet could fundamentally change our society -- but it could leave us dangerously vulnerable. | BarbaraJackson / Pixabay

A pair of entangled qubits exhibit such strong quantum correlations that, no matter how spatially separated they are, they constitute a unique quantum system that’s hard to break.

This is the basis of quantum communication that has been the subject of intense research over the last thirty years.

Information carried over conventional fiber optic cables is extremely vulnerable to leaks, hacks, and cyber eavesdropping.

The laws of quantum physics allow for the design of a quantum internet that enables transmitting data almost instantaneously and with utmost security.

But how might digital terrorists wreck the global quantum internet and the quantum Internet-of-Things?

There’s precedence to the case of terrorists weaponizing the Internet. As an example, without the Internet, the meteoric ascent of ISIS wouldn’t have been possible.

Quantum Terrorism: With Great Tech Comes Great Threat

Physicists have demonstrated the feasibility of a global quantum internet as they managed to transmit data over 12,427 miles separating a satellite and a ground station, with no interference or information loss.

As the quantum internet is already under construction, some new worrying concerns arise.

How could international terrorist groups attack the global quantum network?

It’s to answer this question that Neil Johnson, professor of physics at George Washington University, and his colleagues gathered.

In lieu of the quantum network, the team built a mathematical model made of a large population of entangled photons as qubits.

Then, they tried to attack the system starting with a more “classical” method, like directly targeting the entanglement to break it.

After more testing, they found that the best way to bring the quantum system to its knees is by entangling some “random information” with the rest of data. But this takes more than just one lone-wolf terrorist.

If the attack is orchestrated by a group of terrorists, the random information they inject gets entangled with other bits of data in a way that overwhelms the system. The initial states would be lost forever.

What’s worrying is that there’s no known way to detect the attacks.

“These attacks will be practically impossible to detect since they introduce no change in the Hamiltonian and no loss of purity; they require no real-time communication; and they can be over within a second,” say authors of the study.

How many terrorists exactly is needed to overwhelm the quantum internet with random information?

“Our findings reveal a new form of vulnerability that will enable hostile groups of [three or more] quantum-enabled adversaries to inflict maximal disruption on the global quantum state in such systems.”

As a countermeasure, researchers suggest embedding “future quantum technologies within redundant classical networks.” In other words, we can only compartmentalize the quantum internet into separate and connected systems to minimize the damage when it happens.

A quantum internet would fundamentally change the way we communicate and live as a species. But, despite its significant potential, there are still threats that developers and governments need to be aware of now and in the future.

Read More: New Diamond Qubits Solve Decade-Old Quantum Problem

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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