The headlines are full of stories about Russian invasion of Ukraine at the moment, but the war on the ground isn’t the only type of warfare Russia’s involved in. Cyber warfare is also going on – before the Russian invasion even began, state-sponsored hackers launched attacks on Ukrainian banks and government websites.
Cyber warfare has been deemed the future of warfare by many, with hackers able to strike anywhere at any time. These days the fighting isn’t just done by armies of soldiers – someone can do far more damage with just a keyboard, taking down companies and power grids, or launching phishing scams and malware to attack as many people as possible. We should all be looking to shore up our cyber defences as best as we can.
The development of quantum computers in recent years has left many people worried – these computers are so powerful, and so much faster than traditional computers, that they can break through today’s most secure encryption methods in mere seconds. However, it’s not all doom and gloom – with quantum cryptography, there are ways of keeping data secure, even from the most powerful computers. Quantum encryption is one such solution, encrypting messages with photons, or particles of light, and creating computationally secure symmetric keys.
There are plenty of companies all over the world getting involved with quantum cryptography, but when you take a closer look at them, it’s worrying how many of them have links to Russia – and with Russia’s long history of cyber warfare tactics, that ought to set alarm bells ringing.
The Switzerland-based firm Terra Quantum is one such example. It made the news in August of 2021, with a quantum computing breakthrough. However, questions were raised about the company’s links to Russian academics and universities, and Terra Quantum quickly deleted all traces of them from its website.
Another company that has recently garnered unwanted attention (for them, at least) is ID Quantique. Also based in Switzerland, the company’s first commercial investors were Runa Capital and Phystech Ventures, two venture capital firms founded by Russians. Since ID Quantique was founded in 2001, it’s gone on to work on plenty of quantum communications projects, including working with BT to help create the UK’s first practical quantum-secured high-speed fibre network. In 2019, it was also named one of the 38 firms to receive funding from a European Union research project designed to improve cyber security across Europe and test the continent’s quantum communication infrastructures.
Despite the fact that the United Kingdom technically left the European Union in 2020, it’s still funding this project, and helping to fund a Russian-backed firm’s quantum security solutions. The UK shouldn’t be funding this, whether directly or indirectly, as it could give the Russians an opportunity to completely bypass the country’s cyber defences. In 2019, the US banned government agencies from using software developed by the Russian antivirus company Kaspersky Lab, because of its links to Russia’s Federal Security Service (the FSB). Kaspersky denies this, of course, but it’s long been suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence.
And if that’s enough to get the company banned from working with the US, then the UK can surely do the same to companies that are potentially undermining the UK’s cyber security. Russia already has powerful cyber capabilities, and the UK shouldn’t be helping it to become even more dangerous. Instead, it should be working with British quantum encryption companies, which there are already a few of. For example, there’s Arqit, which has worked with the UK government. Members of the board at Arqit include GCHQ scientists and former members of the US military – a team that inspires far more trust. Arqit’s already working with BT to distribute its QuantumCloud technology in the UK, as well as other international companies.
With firms like Arqit already working to boost the government’s cyber capabilities, there’s no reason why the UK should still be working with, or funding, other firms with links to Russia. If they do, they could be helping Russia win the cyber war before it’s truly begun.