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China's quantum leap forward: decrypting hidden security risks

New capabilities could potentially overwhelm Taiwan’s systems

A prototype of a Chinese light-based quantum computer. (University of Science and Technology of China photo)

A prototype of a Chinese light-based quantum computer. (University of Science and Technology of China photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Competition between the U.S. and China in quantum computing is heating up as Beijing accelerates efforts to displace American leadership in the strategic domain.

Dominance in quantum computing will give states asymmetric advantages, unlocking new capacities to disrupt their rivals’ defense communications systems, according to a recent VOA report. Specifically, quantum computing allows state actors to decrypt encoded messages and direct cryptographic keys to unlock secure communications.

This could enable China to locate submarines, stealth aircraft, and other military assets that rely on the element of surprise, say researchers cited by VOA. Beijing’s Military-Civil Fusion Development Strategy means breakthroughs in China’s private sector and academia will likely be quickly adopted by the People's Liberation Army.

China is also building out large hardware to facilitate its quantum leap in computing. This includes a US$11 billion (NT$306.13 billion) national laboratory for quantum research, per Axios.

Earlier this year, China also successfully tested a quantum satellite, according to the South China Morning Post. This enabled its central government to securely control the power grid in southern Fujian Province with an unhackable quantum key relayed through space.

Preempting new risks from these developments, the U.S. is now building “Post Quantum Cryptography” (PQC) algorithms to resist attacks from regular quantum computing systems. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is now running a competition to identify robust new algorithms, due next year, that will form the core of America’s first PQC standard.

The potential for China to supercharge cyberattacks with quantum computing power is a concern for many countries but is an existential risk for Taiwan. Earlier this year, Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) reported the number of cyberattacks it had sustained, most likely from Chinese sources, had increased 40-fold between 2018 and 2020.

Also this month, state-owned Taiwan Power Company (Taipower) revealed the country experiences cyberattacks almost every day. Though Taipower management assures the public Taiwan’s grid remains secure for now, going forward quantum-powered attacks could certainly pose an even greater threat to the country's systems.