Biden orders new quantum push to ensure encryption isn't cracked by rivals

Domestic action and international collaboration to make sure you-know-who – OK, China – doesn't get ahead of the game


US president Joe Biden issued two directives on Wednesday aimed at ensuring the nation – and like-minded friends – remain ahead of other countries in the field of quantum computing. Especially as applied to cryptography.

The first directive, an Executive Order, creates a National Quantum Initiative Advisory Committee comprising up to 26 experts from industry, academia, and federal laboratories – all appointed by the president and under the authority of the White House. The committee is an enhancement to the National Quantum Initiative Act – a 2018 law that provides $1.2 billion and a plan for advancing quantum tech.

The other directive is a memorandum designed to promote US leadership in quantum computing while mitigating risks to cryptographic systems.

The White House explained in a canned statement that recent breakthroughs in Quantum Information Science (QIS) show the tech's potential to "drive innovations across the American economy, from energy to medicine, through advancements in computation, networking and sensing."

It also issued a stark warning:

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 country's National Security Agency (NSA) separately weighed in on the related dangers associated with the fast-advancing technology.

"A cryptanalytically relevant quantum computer could jeopardize civilian and military communications as well as undermine supervisory and control systems for critical infrastructure," warned the Agency's director, Paul M. Nakasone in a statement. "The number one defense against this quantum computing threat is to implement quantum-resistant cryptography on our most important systems."

The memorandum lays out a plan for updating IT infrastructure while the country adapts to quantum-resistant cryptographic standards, which are on to-do lists at the US Department of Commerce and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) but have not yet been created.

The tasks within the memorandum include items like the NIST's cryptographic standards, establishing requirements for inventorying current systems and creating public sector working groups to promote collaboration. NIST, the NSA and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) all get jobs to do, with deadlines ranging from 90 days to one year.

Although none of the documents mentions China by name, the subtext is that these directives are necessary to compete with the Middle Kingdom as it heavily invests in quantum computing.

In 2020, Chinese physicist Pan Jianwei claimed to have left the US in the dust by using a quantum system to complete in 200 seconds a calculation that the world's mightiest classical computers would chew on for 10,000 years.

Beijing has demanded more breakthroughs in the field of quantum computing by 2030 – a year cited in a US congressional research report as the beginning of the era when conventional encryption will become unsafe when attacked by quantum systems.

Last November, the US sanctioned 28 organizations involved in supporting foreign military quantum computing applications. Twelve of these companies were Chinese.

The Department of Commerce said at the time that eight of those 12 Chinese firms earned their sanctions as part of efforts to prevent US technologies from making their way into the Middle Kingdom's counter-stealth and counter-submarine applications, and their ability to help Beijing's cryptographic development.

"These PRC-based technology entities support the military modernization of the People's Liberation Army and/or acquire and attempt to acquire US origin-items in support of military applications. Today's action will also restrict exports to PRC producers of electronics that the support the People's Liberation Army's military modernization efforts," read the Department's statement at the time. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022