GSMA, IBM and Vodafone set up taskforce to mitigate quantum computing risks

The GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce has been set up to look at how telecoms can be protected once quantum computing kicks in, with IBM and Vodafone having signed up as initial members.

The group, or ‘taskforce’ as it calls itself presumably to sound more dynamic, says it is going to ‘help define policy, regulation and operator business processes for the enhanced protection of telecommunications in a future of advanced quantum computing.’

Quantum computing is regarded as the next big leap forward in computing. The models behind it are based on quantum mechanics, hence the name, and rather than bits, it uses qbits, which can simultaneously be a 1 or a 0. Without getting into the weeds, those in the know believe that when constructed on a sufficient scale, this will mean quantum computers will be able to solve extremely complex problems much faster than anything even the most powerful current supercomputers can.

The GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce seems to be setting itself up as a precautionary measure more than anything else, saying it will be looking at ‘mitigating the risks associated with future, more-powerful quantum computers.’ It asserts that without quantum-safe controls in place, sensitive data could be at risk from attackers who ‘harvest’ present-day data for later decryption.

To back this up, it cites the World Economic Forum’s estimate that more than 20 billion digital devices will need to be either upgraded or replaced in the next 10-20 years to use new forms of ‘quantum-safe encrypted communication’.

“The GSMA Taskforce’s goal is to bring together leading global communication services providers with experts from IBM, Vodafone and other operators and ecosystem partners to understand and implement quantum-safe technology,” said Alex Sinclair, the GSMA’s Chief Technology Officer. “By working together to establish consistent policies, we can define quantum-safe approaches that protect critical infrastructure and customer data, complementing our ongoing security efforts to increase resiliency in future networks.”

Scott Crowder, Vice President of IBM Quantum Adoption and Business Development added: “Given the accelerated advancements of quantum computing, data and systems secured with today’s encryption could become insecure in a matter of years. IBM is pleased to work with the GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce members to prioritize the telco industry’s move to adopt quantum-safe technology.”

It’s interesting to see the emphasis being put on the threats to telecoms infrastructures, presumably stemming from those who might attain access to powerful quantum computing facilities and utilise its processing grunt to launch attacks or process vast amounts of previously nicked data, as opposed to the benefits and opportunities leveraging that same power could bring to communications networks. Particular so as it has IBM’s involvement, which is one of the foremost firms developing quantum computing in the first place.

It’s certainly a contrast to the way a technology like 5G is discussed, where we are constantly showered with examples of how much better the world will be once it’s been fully set up. But to be fair there are probably other taskforces/groups/clubs that busy themselves with talking about all the benefits quantum computing, and there’s nothing wrong with having someone with a sceptical eye in the room as well.


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