Minus 273°Celsius: That’s how cold it needs to be for a quantum computer to operate. These highly sensitive devices also need protection from external influences, such as temperature changes and radiation; otherwise, they may simply stop working. It’s hard to imagine that these machines and the technologies they will enable might soon be competing with classical computers on certain tasks.
Will quantum computers usher in a golden age of information technology? Which quantum technologies can SAP deploy? The SAP Security Research team is tasked with looking into these questions and exploring ways of harnessing the exponential computer power quantum computing promises. At the same time, protecting business-critical data must remain a priority, because as quantum computing advances, its raw computing power poses an increasing threat to today’s encryption schemes as quantum technologies might decode them relatively quickly.
“We began looking into quantum technologies about five years ago. We’re now examining its implications for areas such as data security,” says Andrey Hoursanov, strategy lead for Quantum Technology at SAP Security Research.
Quantum Computers Are Quicker and Not Binary
Experts agree on the huge potential of quantum technologies, which comprise quantum computing, communication, simulation, sensing, and post-quantum cryptography. According to a study by McKinsey, quantum computing could have a global market value of US$1 trillion by 2035.
Already, annual investments across the world are estimated to be US$22.5 billion, and analysts at IDC predict that 25% of the Fortune Global 500 will gain competitive advantage from quantum computing by 2023.
Quantum computing represents a paradigm shift in data processing. A classical computer is an electronic device that processes information in binary bits that can assume only one of two possible states, 1 or 0. By contrast, the processes in a quantum computer take place at the physical particle level. The basic units of information in a quantum computer are quantum bits, or “qubits.” They follow the laws of superposition, interference, and entanglement, which means that they can occupy more than one state at the same time and are interdependent – allowing data to be processed simultaneously rather than sequentially. Computing power might increase exponentially for some algorithms with each additional qubit.
Learn more: What is Quantum Technology?
“If quantum technologies realize their potential, we may in the future be able to solve complex tasks that even the most powerful supercomputers fail at today,” says Martin Heinig, head of New Ventures and Technologies at SAP.
In logistics, for example, the optimal route, mode of transportation, and product quantity for deliveries could be identified at each point in the supply chain and updated in real time as conditions change. For other industries too, enterprise software solutions from SAP could simulate business processes more easily and infinitely faster.
Quantum technologies could also massively accelerate machine learning in SAP solutions by making artificial intelligence (AI) super-intelligent and allowing training data to be fed into the software more quickly.
Making Conventional Encryption Quantum-Safe
But the benefits of the immense computing power promised by quantum technologies also pose a major challenge to conventional encryption methods. Encryption schemes that were considered safe by classical computing standards are no match for quantum computing paradigms. Quantum hackers could use this immense computing power to quickly crack encryption keys in conventional cryptographic systems, read encrypted messages, and create fake signatures. Customers expect SAP to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their business-critical data and processes at all times.
For SAP, preparing for the quantum era means securing critical and sensitive data using post-quantum and quantum-resistant cryptosystems.
SAP continuously analyzes new cryptographic algorithms and has already developed several proofs of concept to test the feasibility of algorithms that researchers have deemed “quantum-safe” and capable of guarding against hacker attacks, data leaks, and espionage.
What SAP Is Doing
SAP has been conducting research into quantum technologies for many years and has built up considerable expertise in the process.
According to Hoursanov, who has been driving SAP’s quantum technologies initiative from the get-go: “Many customers are already asking where SAP is on its quantum tech journey. After all, we have shared interests in exploiting the technology. It’s about optimizing supply chains, logistics, warehouse management, perhaps portfolio optimization in financial services. And, finally, it’s about data security.”
The SAP Security Research team is highly committed to the quantum security community. They prototyped embedding a quantum-safe signature scheme for software packages. And their work on identifying use cases and weak points in quantum communication involves checking data during transmission and the key distribution and management infrastructure.
Making quantum technologies commercially viable requires cooperation between industry and academia and involvement in multidisciplinary consortia. SAP is part of the EU Quantum Flagship, one of the EU’s largest research initiatives, and a founding member of both the European Quantum Industry Consortium and the Quantum Technology and Application Consortium, where it is working with leading experts, quantum technology players, and future consumers of quantum technologies – many of which are SAP customers.
Although quantum technologies cannot yet be fully deployed for practical reasons, it is already clear that they offer enormous opportunities in data processing, particularly when it comes to secure communication and solving complex problems efficiently. SAP has a significant stake in this exploration journey.
Hoursanov shares his point of view on some frequently asked questions about quantum technologies.
Q: Will quantum computers replace classical computers?
A: Technically, classical computers [the computers we’re familiar with now] are quantum devices, but they don’t use the full power of quantum mechanics. Ironically, not using quantum properties in calculations makes classical computers very efficient in what they do best: logical and arithmetic operations. Quantum computers cannot do it better. They are better, however, in tasks like finding the shortest route to solve complex issues, which is extremely hard for classical computers. Thus, it is not expected that quantum computers will replace classical ones, but rather will complement them, giving a boost to solve specific problems, for example optimization and factorization.
Will quantum computing supersede cloud computing?
Quantum computers are quite expensive, require specific working environments, and are meant to be used as a co-processor for specific tasks – all that makes them a precise fit as a special-purpose computation resource in a cloud. And it looks like all major cloud providers clearly recognize it and are investing in the development and integration of quantum computers into their stack. Quantum computers will not supersede, but rather boost cloud computing to the next level.
Will quantum technologies break blockchain?
Blockchain technology relies on modern cryptography schemes, which are threatened by quantum computers. Unless blockchain adopts new schemes, so called post-quantum or quantum-strong cryptography, it will be vulnerable to attacks, for instance impersonating people and performing unauthorized transactions. In anticipation of quantum computers, the blockchain team at the SAP Innovation Center Network has already started prototyping quantum-strong blockchain using new cryptography.
Will quantum technologies break bitcoin?
Bitcoin uses blockchain technology and as such is susceptible to “quantum attacks.” The immutable design of Bitcoin creates additional complications, and therefore forbids migration of the existing instances to new cryptography. While private blockchain instances might be migrated to new cryptography with reasonable efforts and minimal disruption, the task is intractable for public blockchains like bitcoin.