UK Banks Warn Quantum Will Imperil Entire Payment System

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The UK finance industry has warned that quantum computing could unravel the security used to protect the country’s entire payment system.

Banking body UK Finance issued the warning in a new report published this week: Identifying and Minimising the Risks Posed by Quantum Technology.

Quantum computing is still in development, but if viable computers can be built using the technology, they could use Shor’s algorithm to crack the asymmetric (PKI) encryption used by the finance industry, rendering it practically useless.

These warnings are not new, but the banking industry is now lending them an added urgency, calling on industry and government to collaborate more closely on a post-quantum future.

“We cannot ignore the risks … and the reality that when a Cryptographically Relevant Quantum Computer is developed, it could break the encryption underpinning all payments and electronic commerce,” warned Jana Mackintosh, managing director of payments, innovation & resilience at UK Finance.

“We must be ready. Industry and government must work together now to secure the financial services industry against these threats, and put the UK at the head of the pack to seize the opportunities.”   

Read more on quantum computing: UK Joins Quantum Arms Race with First Computer

Other quantum risks highlighted by UK Finance include:

  • Possible market instability caused by unequal access to the technology
  • Insufficient skills in the UK
  • The technological debt accrued from legacy systems
  • Multiple environmental considerations associated with quantum technology

However, the industry body released a second report in tandem with the first, outlining the multibillion-pound opportunity that quantum technology offers the financial services sector.

To address both opportunity and risk, UK Finance set out seven recommendations for government:

  • Establish a quantum-safe taskforce to help the transition to technology capable of withstanding security threats in the new quantum era
  • Be vigilant of other nations’ work to develop quantum technology, and encourage the private sector to transition to quantum-safe technologies
  • Grow the quantum workforce
  • Encourage UK supervisory authorities to start their quantum-safe journey now
  • Develop targeted sector-specific roadmaps with support from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)
  • Establish a quantum computing taskforce for monitoring advances in the technology and identifying relevant use cases
  • Encourage firms to invest in quantum computing training and education for their workforce

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