By Scott Totzke
Of the top disruptive technologies that will benefit from quantum computing, self-driving cars look most imminent as a commercial prospect. Google Street View cars have made the concept familiar. Demonstrations of new models that will transform how people travel are becoming more frequent. Companies are making large investments, like Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of autonomous vehicle technology firm Mobileye. The environmental and traffic control advantages of driverless vehicles are numerous. We’re approaching a time when they will become indispensable in any urban landscape. And two technologies that were, until recently, considered futuristic—artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing—are already breaking ground to make the widespread use of driverless cars possible.
As a real example of how quantum information science is already changing how we solve complex problems, Volkswagen is now using quantum technology to optimize taxi routing in Beijing. A recently announced research project highlighted how they’re enhancing an AI approach to traffic flow optimization by using a quantum algorithm that a conventional computer cannot run. Without quantum computing, the traffic flow control needed to achieve the driverless vehicle future experts have foreseen might well be impossible. We’re almost at the milestone in quantum computing where it will exceed some capabilities of conventional computers, allowing for incredible advances.
However, as essential as it is to realizing autonomous driving as a large-scale, accessible service, using quantum technology introduces a security risk. Embedded systems in vehicles require connected technologies that rely on cryptography to secure data and authenticate communications. It’s the same cryptography that most other conventional computers use, and it can be broken by a quantum computer. The long development cycle for automobile production means that the security innovations needed to protect self-driving cars against attacks from quantum computers need to be part of the blueprint now.
The milestone where quantum computers have sufficient power to break modern cybersecurity measures is believed to be only 9 years away, meaning that autonomous vehicles need to have quantum safe security built into their systems soon if our roads are to be safe in the near future. The problem of hackers using fraudulent software updates to take control of an embedded system is a real risk, and it can be accomplished when the cryptography behind authentication protocols is breakable. Cars that are not self-driving have already been shown to be hackable, and modern automotive development includes more embedded systems than ever, creating more opportunities for cyberattacks on vehicles.
The prospect of hacked cars with no one behind the wheel should raise concern for obvious reasons. A quantum vulnerable autonomous vehicle cannot be allowed to exist. The solution is to step up research into and awareness of quantum safe security solutions. Security in emerging, connected technologies has too often been an afterthought or a response to cyberattack. The companies creating innovations that will shape our future must take responsibility for integrating quantum safe security as soon as possible.
About Scott Totzke
ISARA Corporation’s CEO, Scott Totzke, is responsible for building the organization that is developing and implementing quantum-resistant products. Prior to co-founding ISARA, Scott was Senior VP of Enterprise and Security at Huawei where he was responsible for launching Huawei’s R&D office in Waterloo.