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Protecting Quantum Science, Technology
by Federal Bureau of Investigation
April 13, 2024

World Quantum Day, April 14, was initially conceived to ignite interest and generate enthusiasm for quantum mechanics. It has since morphed into so much more. Quantum information science is an emerging field with the potential to create revolutionary advances in science and engineering and drive innovation across the U.S. economy.

Future technologies such as quantum computers, quantum sensors, and quantum communication devices have the potential to drive innovations across the American economy. When new technologies are the product of American ideas and innovation, a component of the FBI’s work is to protect them. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from FBI courtesy graphic/photo.)
Future technologies such as quantum computers, quantum sensors, and quantum communication devices have the potential to drive innovations across the American economy. When new technologies are the product of American ideas and innovation, a component of the FBI’s work is to protect them. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from FBI courtesy graphic/photo.)

When new technologies are the product of American ideas and research, it's the FBI's and our security partner agencies' job to protect them. Today, adversarial nation-states are aggressively attempting to obtain a strategic advantage over the U.S. by stealing U.S. technologies and research know-how to help bolster their respective government's policies that violate international norms ... including respect for rule of law, fair trade, and full scientific research collaborative reciprocity ... while damaging U.S. economic competitiveness and harming U.S. national and economic security.

The National Counterintelligence Task Force's (NCITF) Quantum Information Science Counterintelligence Protection Team (QISCPT) unites the FBI with our intelligence and security partners to protect quantum information science and technology developed in the U.S. and like-minded nations.

Members of the quantum ecosystem, composed of industry, academia, national labs, investors and end users, best understand the future implications of their research and development efforts.

"Quantum information science and technology has the potential for enormous positive humanitarian impact, but its implications for our economic and national security are consequential as well," said FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate.

"The Quantum Information Science Counterintelligence Protection Team leverages partnerships across government, academia, and private industry to protect progress in this field and thwart nation-state and other adversaries' efforts to steal innovations. The QISCPT is working within the interagency framework of the National Counterintelligence Task Force to ensure that the U.S. and like-minded nations do not lose momentum in the successful development of quantum technology."

What is Quantum Information Science?

Quantum mechanics examines the properties and behaviors of the smallest particles that make up everything around us.

In the quantum world ... at the scale of molecules, atoms, and electrons ... the laws of physics become peculiar and behave differently than in the physical world we can see. GPS systems, MRI technology, and the lasers that enable today's internet are examples of technology developed thanks to quantum mechanics. But in the emerging field of quantum information science, researchers are further exploring how to control the behavior of these quantum systems to create next-generation technologies for imaging, sensing, computing, modeling, and communication.

Quantum information science could give rise to the quantum computer ... computers that can perform certain mathematical computations impossible for traditional computers ... which scientists theorize could advance research in communication networks, new drugs, new materials, more defined medical imaging, microelectronics, and semiconductors.

As a result of the transformational innovations quantum can offer, private investors and governments, including adversarial nations, are investing heavily in quantum technology research and development.

Safeguarding Scientific Research and Technology

The FBI and our NCITF partners have developed security partnerships with technology developers, investors, and end-users to thwart adversaries' efforts to steal quantum innovations. To aid in keeping the quantum field safe, we are increasing outreach to government research agencies, private sector companies, and academic institutions to help bolster the industry’s cybersecurity defenses and to coordinate any counterintelligence investigations associated with quantum technology.

Partnerships are vital ... the threat from foreign intelligence adversaries has become increasingly complex as they employ an all-tools approach that includes non-traditional collectors, economic and academic influence, and other asymmetric intelligence operations. As a result, no single U.S. counterintelligence agency can fully understand or mitigate these operations on its own. The NCITF, which comprises over 45 government agencies, was born out of this idea. A component of its mission is to protect the quantum research and development landscape, covering all efforts across and within government, academia, and the private sector.

Within NCITF, the Quantum Information Science Counterintelligence Protection Team (QISCPT) is an interagency unit tasked with protecting the quantum information science technology developed by the U.S. and like-minded nations. This team was created as a result of the National Quantum Initiative Act of 2018, which established a coordinated federal program to provide and support accelerated quantum research for the economic and national security of the U.S.

The QISCPT puts the FBI and our intelligence and security agency partners within arm's reach of representatives from all government agencies ... not just the law enforcement and intelligence communities ... and in contact with key players in the quantum information science and technology ecosystem. This access allows us strategic agility and deep insight into the strengths and vulnerabilities of the field, allowing us to form a nuanced threat picture and positions us to help protect vital U.S. innovation and security.

The FBI and our NCITF intelligence and security partners understand the value and importance of a diverse workforce, especially in research and innovation environments. International collaboration in emerging technology fields is a boon to U.S. industry and academia. The issue arises when talented foreign researchers, investors and end users are exploited by adversary governments to commit illegal or otherwise illicit acts. It is our mission to stop innocent people from being victimized by an adversary nation state ... no matter the nationality of the person transferring the information.

How to Protect Your Research

Research security built into funding proposals opens the opportunity for scientists and engineers to maintain progress towards their research goals. The following are recommended guidelines to assist in protecting your research:

  • Establish simple systems to report suspicious activities.

  • Security personnel should continuously monitor networks and physical access.

  • Consider having research and business partners sign nondisclosure agreements.

  • Beware of funding and collaboration offers that could be used by an adversary or competitor.

  • Identify whether primary, secondary, and third-party business partners and supply chain are subject to foreign control.

  • Require researchers to disclose foreign research and funding associations.

  • Be cautious of extensive information inquiries, complex shipping arrangements, or products from foreign entities.

In addition, be on the alert for the following ... they are warning signs a bad actor may be trying to steal your organization’s quantum research or product:

  • Quantum information science program associations that are influenced or controlled by an adversary third country.

  • Customers with overly complicated shipping instructions or middle men.

  • Persons encouraging research collaboration with unusual requests.

  • Unusually large or illogical orders of complete or partial quantum information science-related hardware and products.

  • Invitations from unknown or unvetted entities to travel abroad to teach or collaborate on critical research.

  • Emails from unknown or suspicious senders.

  • Unusual network traffic.

How to Report Threats

If your organization suspects a compromise to quantum research and technology, it is essential to involve the FBI by:

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) | Department of Justice

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