As reported by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, North Korea recently sent out a “new combination of mysterious random numbers” thought to be coded orders to its spies in South Korea. The random encrypted numbers were sent out over a radio broadcast. Further, the U.S.-Korea Institute’s “38 North” program now tells us that North Korean scientists have actually developed a quantum encryption device.
What Kim Jong Un’s regime is now doing from a cyber standpoint should be a “red flag” to America’s entire national security structure.
Whoever is first to master the science of quantum computing and random number generation will likely have a “leg up” in winning the cyber war, as these random numbers are the roots of every encryption algorithm. It could be the great equalizer and enable a small country with less advanced technology in other areas, and with bad economic conditions, to gain a real strategic advantage. Combine it with ballistic missile and nuclear technology, and you’ve got a big problem on your hands.
While the North Korean “working system” is still most probably in a lab, the fact that they have this technology and are working with random number generated codes should be a real wake-up call for the United States. Today there is strong evidence that the science of quantum computing can provide for the generation of truly random numbers. Once this technology has matured, it would greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of hacking into any system. From a U.S. national security standpoint, having this technology would make it almost impossible for our enemies to hack us. If, on the other hand, a country such as North Korea were to get this technology first, it would make it much more difficult for us to disrupt them from attacking us.
Cyber warfare is the most complicated national security threat that the U.S. has ever faced because technology is changing so quickly. In fact, the speed of change in the cyber technology realm is changing faster than the Pentagon and that of our broader national security apparatus’ ability to analyze and adapt. After air, land, sea and space, cyber is the 5th dimension of warfare. Cyber attacks are killing us both economically and from a national security standpoint. A few companies and a couple of U.S. universities are pursuing the science of quantum computing and random number generation. In the U.S Government sector, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been out front. Sadly, though, it has not been a major priority for the National Security Agency or other American intelligence agencies.
Dr. Warner Miller is a Ph.D. physicist and retired Air Force officer who ran the Joint U.S. Air Force-Department of Energy Quantum Physics Lab at Kirtland AFB. He says, “Secure encrypted communications have always been a cornerstone of preserving freedom and this is becoming more true in this emerging interconnected world of ours.”
Miller, who now teaches at Florida Atlantic University, notes that Winston Churchill directed a focused research effort to crack the German “Enigma Code” which eventually cracked their war machine. He’s right. At the beginning of World War II, Nazi Germany’s “Enigma Code” appeared unbreakable. As shown in the recent movie, “The Imitation Game,” the British brought together the best cryptographers and mathematicians and in the end, under the genius of Alan Turing, built a machine to crack the Nazi’s Enigma machine.
While a number of the British codebreakers were already assembled at Bletchley Park when he became Prime Minister in May of 1940, it was Churchill’s personal involvement and leadership that made a big difference. Churchill made sure they had whatever resources they needed and that the best minds were recruited to the effort. In fact, when Turing and other cryptographers made a request for specific resources, Churchill immediately granted it. Further, he engaged directly with the cryptanalysts and would even visit personally to boost their morale. Sir Winston knew the stakes and that his personal leadership was required. The significance of the effort at Bletchley Park in breaking the Enigma Code is best summed up in a letter at the end of the war by then General Dwight Eisenhower, which was recently made public. Ike called the effort of “priceless value” and said it “saved countless British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed and eventually forced to surrender.”
The “British Bulldog” gave us the framework to achieve victory. It’s a blueprint for President Trump to bring together America’s best minds in the science of quantum computing and random number generation. Let’s get our very best cryptologists, mathematicians and physicists together at one location like the Brits did at Bletchley Park. Let’s bring together America’s “Alan Turings” of this generation. Men and women like NIST’s Dr. Lily Chen, AFRL’s Dr. Paul Alsing, Dr. Warner Miller, and many others. Make sure they have the resources they need. They should continue to work there until the job is done. And just as Chief of MI6 Stewart Menzies oversaw the Bletchley Park effort that broke the Enigma Code for Churchill, President Trump can have his own national security lieutenant oversee this effort.
Today, whoever wins the “Cyber War” will have the upper hand in current and future conflicts. And whoever masters the science of quantum computing and random number generation will likely win the “Cyber War.” Losing this war is not an option. The good guys must win it now just as they did by cracking the Enigma Code in the 1940s.
Kim Jong Un’s recent cyber activities are a real wake-up call for America and the rest of the free world. It’s an opportunity, though, for American ingenuity to lead and win the cyber war for this and future generations.