(Yahoo.Finance) Arqit was until this week almost entirely unknown outside of a handful of security experts.
But a fortnight ago, the London-headquartered start-up managed to attract a $1.4bn valuation in a listing on Nasdaq through a merger with a “blank cheque” company.
Arqit’s team includes a roster of former of GCHQ coders and British and US military officials. They are planning to build a communications network using satellites, data centres and a kind of quantum cloud computer that could create a newly secure internet backbone.
Arqit claims it has created a so-called “quantum safe” network. “Everyone I spoke to told me it was impossible, but we found a way to do it,” said David Williams, Arqit’s chairman.
Using a network of low-earth orbit satellites, Arqit will beam down a quantum signal to ground receivers at data centres, creating a “quantum cloud” to generate infinite random numbers that can be used by regular smartphones.
Williams explains: “On day one, when you get your phone, you will have a piece of software installed. This allows you to have a secure communications channel using a symmetric encryption key, which cannot be broken by the quantum computer, shared with the quantum cloud.”
“The whole system is very, very radical,” says David Williams, Arqit’s chairman. “It is unlike anything the world has seen before and it is patented here in the UK.”
The 52-year-old former chief executive of Avanti says existing “public key encryption” was not built for the modern world. “It is crumbling. It is not protecting us against the Colonial pipeline cyber attack or the SolarWinds attack.”
Nearly all communications on the web rely on algorithms that scramble messages by multiplying prime numbers together. To crack the code, a computer will need to work out both the original prime numbers. Figuring this out for a number hundreds of digits long would take millions of years.
But such maths is trivial for the quantum computers planned by the likes of Google and IBM and researchers in the US, Britain and China. Rather than working out problems using ones and zeros, quantum computers use quantum bits known as “qubits”.
There are real fears that China is already ahead in this race. It claims to have reached the level of “quantum supremacy”, meaning its computers can now outperform traditional machines.
Being hacked by a quantum computer is not just a problem for spooks in GCHQ. Roger McKinlay, director of the UK’s Quantum Technologies Challenge, says: “This has serious implications for the safe and secure running of critical national infrastructure. But also for us as individuals, with our online lives, including bank accounts, potentially vulnerable in the future.”