By Dan O'Shea posted 04 Nov 2021

While many people in the quantum computing sector are waiting for the National Institute of Standards and Technology to issue quantum standards, particularly around quantum cryptography, NIST senior advisor Clare Allocca made an important clarification for the IQT Fall crowd on Wednesday: NIST is not a standards development organization.

A day earlier during a panel session on quantum-safe cryptography for government, quantum security experts talked about anxiously awaiting word from NIST on quantum security standards, but Allocca, senior advisor for standardization in the standards coordination office at NIST, explained her agency is only “coordinating” standards work being done by several standards organization and contributing bodies around the world.

These groups include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU-T), and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CEN-CENELEC), all of which are working on defining quantum security requirements and standards of one kind or another.

“We want to make sure all countries are at the table,” Allocca said. 

While some in the quantum sector could already be growing impatient about the standards process, Allocca explained that regardless of sector agencies working on standards need to see a particular technology achieve some level of maturity before tackling standards for it.

“This is very important when we’re looking to accelerate an industry and give it its best chance of success,” she said. “In security, QKD is being looked at right now because it’s further along in maturity than some other things.”

Allocca didn’t provide an update on how soon we could get some news of standards around quantum security and related areas, though she defined three standards areas that are the subject of current work by the above-mentioned groups : quantum networking and communication, under which quantum key distribution falls; quantum sensing and quantum computing.

Standards can’t come soon enough for some. William Layton, senior subject matter expert for quantum-resistant cryptography at the National Security Agency, said Tuesday that he’s optimistic about hearing some standard news from NIST in the coming months, so that a likely long validation and adoption process can begin in earnest. 

“I’m more worried about the actual pain of getting the solutions out into the world,” he said. “There are millions of devices out there that have crypto of some kind. You can fix people’s browsers in a month, but all these devices out there — that is painful and very long and I would like to get that started as soon as possible.”

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