Negate the quantum cyber threat to safely unlock the potential of quantum computers
By Andrew Shields, Head of the Quantum Technology Division at Toshiba Europe:
The theory of quantum computing edges closer to reality every day. Governments around the world are racing to develop the infrastructure necessary to be quantum ready. For example, the UK Government has positioned quantum readiness as a pillar of its recently announced National Cyber Strategy. Unrivalled processing power and mainstream adoption present unparalleled opportunities for major economic growth. However, without the appropriate safety measures, quantum computing presents the most severe security threat to modern cyberinfrastructure.
Public key encryption a critical part of today’s cyber infrastructure – essential to the web, ecommerce, and the secure transfer and storage of vast quantities of sensitive business and personal data. Yet the underlying security of these public key encryption, taken for granted for a long time, is now under threat. We’re living at a time where cyber-attacks are becoming increasingly numerous, advanced, and diverse. Ransomware, encrypted threats and cryptojacking are just a few attack methods found to have significantly increased in number over the past year, according to SonicWall’s 2022 Cyber Threat Report.
The concern is that this is soon to be aided further by the arrival of quantum computers, which will severely weaken much of the encryption techniques that we rely on today. As such, there is a need to future-proof data now before it’s too late, particularly that which remains sensitive for a long time – such as genomic or financial information – given hackers can bide their time as quantum looms closer, in the meantime harvesting encrypted data that they’ll soon be able to break.
Negating the quantum threat
Fortunately, there are solutions in play to negate this threat in the form of quantum key distribution (QKD) – a secure method of generating and distributing secret keys between two parties on an optical network. By harnessing the properties of particles like photons, QKD can be used to generate and distribute secret keys needed for cryptographic applications. By sending streams of encoded single photons through a network, it is possible to share a secret digital key that can be used for encrypting or authenticating information while also preventing cyber criminals from accessing and using the keys.
Through decades of tireless research QKD has been developed to the point where it is now both commercially viable and available. QKD systems such as Toshiba’s have been refined to overcome stumbling blocks to the technology through innovative capabilities such as high key rates, longer transmission lengths, multiplexing and active stabilisation. Multiplexing enables QKD to be implemented on data carrying fibre, subsequently reducing the cost of deployment and ensuring it can work within the existing network infrastructure supplied by today’s carriers. Active stabilisation enables a QKD system to distribute key material continuously in even the most challenging operating conditions, and without any user intervention – providing the stability necessary for real-world deployment. The net of this is that these systems are more future proof and easier to deploy and operate in real, deployed networks. And real-world deployment is exactly what we are now seeing, with it no surprise that organisations within sectors handling highly confidential data are implementing quantum-secured networks via this method.
In the UK, the National Composites Centre (NCC) and Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS) have deployed a QKD network between their sites in Bristol demonstrating the secure transmission of confidential information which replaced a ‘manual’ approach of physically transporting sensitive design and manufacturing data on portable storage devices – subsequently saving time and enhancing the security of critical data. Meanwhile in financial services, a major international bank has successfully secured a mission-critical blockchain application.
In this age of unprecedented data proliferation, data privacy is of paramount importance. As such sectors that traffic in sensitive information – healthcare, finance, smart manufacturing – are already working to secure the quantum future today. QKD is a critical aspect of this evolution – at an IOT and device-level chip based QKD systems could maximise protection, enabling mass deployment of this encryption method. For this to work at its highest efficacy other sectors need to take up arms in the quantum race before it’s too late.