Mark Leigh, one of our Capability Leads here at the EPC gathers his thoughts on 'Cyber Horizon Scanning' and looks at this years' World Economic Forum (WEF) annual report

When it was describing what it sees as 'future shocks', the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s current annual report talks about the impact of quantum computing. So, I looked that up and then read on…

The paper starts like this; 'When the huge resources being devoted to quantum research lead to large scale quantum computing, many of the tools that form the basis of current digital cryptography will be rendered obsolete'.

It goes on to say that public key algorithms will be 'effortlessly crackable'. It calls this 'the collapse of cryptography'. It is something that will take with it 'much of the scaffolding of digital life', meaning technologies at the root of online authentication. 

This is not an alarmist report; it points out that new security systems will (and must) be developed and will work – but it does raise serious questions about cyber security in the transition period from conventional to quantum computing, and after. 

Interestingly, one of its suggestions is that we will retreat to some extent from high-tech solutions and total digitisation and take sensitive data offline – perhaps resorting to earlier forms of 'in-person' exchanges to be able to guarantee identity and secure the most important information.

My purpose here isn’t to comment on this technically – I don’t know enough about the considerable and deep technicalities; I probably don’t even know what I don’t know. But I can see the potential for the sort of levels of disruption this could cause for governments, organisations and businesses.

So it’s an object lesson in horizon scanning. The WEF report gives a tidy little description of 8 other 'future shocks' as well – all thoughtful, incisive… and a little bit unsettling. Perhaps that’s also what horizon scanning is about – shaking the complacency tree a little and asking us to look further, look deeper and look beyond?

The Insight Team