I last wrote about cybersecurity nearly 10 years ago in a column titled “Cybersecurity—from Boardroom to Factory Floor.” So, where do we stand on cybersecurity? As the digital world continues pushing ahead, it comes with new challenges in the cyberspace. Individual systems and/or infrastructure systems are subject to attacks by increasingly savvy adversaries who can leverage new and emerging technologies.
A cyberattack can be surreptitiously detrimental, crippling business operations, the national economy and security, or just jeopardizing an individual laptop. This pervasive and persistent security threat is one of the most formidable challenges of our times.
In my 2013 column, I stated: “Cyberattacks will continue to be a huge concern to U.S. corporations in the foreseeable future. It's a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if.’ It is not industry-specific; every company will have to deal with this challenge. The earlier that preparation is made, the better a company is positioned to fend off the attack. The most insidious nature of a cyberattack is that it could happen anywhere at any time without physical boundaries across national borders.” Indeed, potential hacking is timeless and borderless.
Under this backdrop, is it feasible to reach the level of being un-hackable? And what does it take to reach that level of security? Practically speaking, “un-hackability” is a relative term, which is a moving target as well. In other words, it relies on whether we can alleviate the weak and vulnerable link(s) in the system, set the strategy, and practice to outsmart and outpace the potential adversaries.
The foundational pillars behind an un-hackable system are hardware, software, data, computing, communication, human, and integration. Each of these pillars must surpass the anticipated capabilities of potential hackers. A holistic cybersecurity needs to embrace all types of security capabilities including:
- Critical infrastructure security
- Application security
- Network security
- Cloud security
- Edge (IoT) security
Also in my 2013 column, I mentioned, “Under a savvy and diligent governing board oversight, a cyber culture can be cultivated over time with persistent and pervasive effort by considering the following 20 actionable items.” The 20th item called out in that article was to “Keep pace with emerging technologies.”
What are game-changing technologies behind the cybersecurity capabilities? Take artificial intelligence as an illustration. I’m reluctant to mention the phrase “artificial intelligence” as lately it has become household vernacular. However, AI brings “ammunition” against attacks. In practice, AI and computing power are intimately intertwined. With the recent acceleration of computing power, the advancement of AI is expected to gain momentum, although fundamental breakthroughs must still be made to reach the next level of performance.
This emerging technology also comes with risks as AI enables another level of attack abilities. The logical question is what the plausible strategies and methodologies are to integrate AI into the security infrastructure in a timely fashion that will fend off an AI-empowered attack. It is worth noting that defense is one thing and offense is another; one must be able to go on the offensive as well as defend.
Another illustration is quantum mechanics. While “quantum” has also been overused as well, it works here. A quantum computer’s omnipotent computing power, in virtue of quantum’s “quirky and spooky” nature of superposition and entanglement, can solve problems that are far too complex for classical computers and supercomputers to figure out in a finite timeframe. Even the processors with trillions of transistors are falling way behind.
The potential impact of quantum computing on cybersecurity is profound and is expected to transform cybersecurity and change the global landscape. Its anticipated capabilities pose a significant threat to cybersecurity infrastructure, as it can disrupt current encryption systems, requiring a change in how the data are encrypted. This includes solving the algorithms behind encryption keys that protect the data and the internet's infrastructure.
The public key cryptosystem, RSA, has been widely used for secure data transmission. As of now, not one individual, company, or a country has reached or even is near to the level of the computing capability in qubits required to totally disrupt the current encryption system. Reportedly, a quantum computer would need to be as large as 70 million qubits to break that encryption. IBM1 and Google2, among others, have roadmaps to achieve 1 million qubits by 2030. Nonetheless, indisputably, a leader in quantum computing holds the omnipotent key. The competitive race is fiercely marching on.
Speaking of the race, in 2016 China blasted the world’s first quantum communication satellite into orbit from the Gobi Desert. “The newly-launched satellite marked a transition in China’s role—from a follower in classic information technology (IT) development to one of the leaders guiding future IT achievements,” said Pan Jianwei, chief scientist of Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) project with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) 3. With the help of the new satellite, scientists are testing quantum key distribution between the satellite and ground stations and conducting secure quantum communications. QUESS is designed to establish “hack-proof” quantum communications by transmitting uncrackable keys from space to the ground and provide insights into the strangest phenomenon in quantum physics—quantum entanglement.
Quantum communication boasts ultra-high security by exploiting the quirky properties of subatomic particles, as a quantum photon can neither be separated nor duplicated. Thus, it is impossible to wiretap, intercept, or crack the information transmitted through it.
In upcoming decades, it remains to be seen who will win the quantum computing or quantum communication. All embracingly, it appears to indicate that the disruptive quantum computing abilities are still many years away. One thing for sure is that we must address security in the quantum world. This is valid and critical.
The Role of Hardware
For our industry, it would be remiss not to call out hardware. Hardware technologies to increase the bandwidth and capacity within the desired power and thermal envelope, including processor, memory, GPU, interconnect, among others, make the applications of AI feasible. In hardware chips, the system design, development, manufacturing, and the supply chain that enable the functions and performance of the omnipotent technologies are the critical part of the equation. On top of hardware for machine learning, the hardware for “deeper” learning abilities requires integrating the natural language processing and neural network that mimic the functionality and connectivity of neurons in the human brain in the hardware system, which is yet to evolve.
Other Than Technologies
To defend against hackers (human, machine, human-machine teaming), in addition to technologies, other key elements of establishing a resilient cybersecurity system include people talents, sound policies, and effective processes to tackle the challenges of the complex and ever-changing cyber-physical-human infrastructure.
In a nutshell, to be un-hackable, always be on the lookout for new and innovative ways to stay one step ahead of hackers—not only to react, but to anticipate and to envisage.
- “IBM plans a huge leap in superfast quantum computing by 2023,” by Robert Hackett, Fortune Magazine, Sept. 15, 2020.
- “Quantum computing is entering a new dimension,” by Robert Hackett, Fortune Magazine, Dec. 3, 2020.
- “What the World’s First Quantum Satellite Launch Means,” by Robert Hackett, Fortune Magazine, Aug. 16, 2016.
Dr. Hwang will deliver two professional development courses: “Solder Joint Reliability—Principle and Practice,” from noon to 3 p.m. Jan. 22, and “Preventing Product Failure and Manufacturing Defects,” from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23, at IPC APEX EXPO 2023 in San Diego, California.
This column originally appeared in the November 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine.