(FactBasedInsight:QuantumInternet) Welcome back to the Quantum Technology Outlook 2020 guest series provided to IQT by Dr. David Shaw. Today’s article is Part One of the Quantum Internet Outlook.
Fortunately preparations are well in hand to fix the Internet before large scale quantum computers can break it. But even in 2020, sensitive data intercepted and stored is already vulnerable to future attack. Companies must act to ensure they are not caught-out by the coming transition. In the longer term, the tantalising promise of the Quantum Internet beckons.
Time to act
Despite the many very positive applications quantum computers will find, the one that most people hear first is less welcome. When a large enough quantum computer is available we know it will be able to use Shor’s algorithm to break the current public key cryptographic protocols on which Internet and corporate network security currently relies. Worse, data intercepted and stored today is already vulnerable to decrypt by this future threat. The vast majority of existing blockchain platforms also have vulnerabilities. Company boards should already feel accountable for long-term sensitive business data from 2020 that is later compromised in this way.
When quantum computers large enough to realise this threat will be built has been the subject of much speculation, but little certainty. Where businesses need a single ‘reasonable worst case’ date to prepare against, Fact Based Insight continues to suggest 2027, though it’s important to emphasise that the ‘most likely’ date is perhaps 2035 or beyond.
Businesses need to consider their own specific security challenges and the potentially significant time it will take them to transition to quantum safe arrangements. Parallel investments in technologies such as 5G networks, the Internet of Things and blockchain also need careful consideration.
For more background read Quantum Safe Cryptography – waiting to save the world.
For the impact on Blockchain read Quantum enhanced blockchain – sooner than you think.
Broadly two approaches are being developed to meet the quantum threat: the new maths-based protocols of PCQ and the physics-based approaches of quantum cryptography, especially QRNG and QKD.
Post-Quantum Crypto – on track
NIST PQC Process
Development of new maths-based cryptographic protocols thought to be resistant to quantum attack has been underway since 2006 and with renewed vigour since 2016 through an evaluation and standardisation process led by NIST. Of 69 candidates for ‘round 1’ evaluation 21 were broken or significantly attacked. 26 candidates have continued for ‘round 2’ evaluation during 2019-20 and this process remains on track . The various protocols have different strengths and weaknesses. Importantly, typical key and signature sizes are likely to be significantly increased compared to present day solutions. These may not be simple ‘drop-in’ replacements for existing algorithms.
NIST has resisted the calls from some quarters to accelerate the announcement of interim standards, instead reflecting the general view in the expert community that further work on security validation is required. Round 3 evaluations will run 2020-21. Draft standards are expected to be posted for public comments around 2022, final standards around 2024.
Early Movers – A variety of companies have undertaken real world trials or introduced pilot products. Google have tested NTRU-HRSS and SIKE for Internet TLS (the former performing better). Amazon have announced support for BIKE and SIKE for connections to AWS. Due to the experimental nature of these algorithms, in all cases the implementations provide a dual-lock by combining the PQC algorithm with a proven existing algorithm (e.g. DH). Other tech majors are actively involved with particular algorithms such as Microsoft (FrodoKEM, SIKE, Picnic, qTESLA) and IBM (CRYSTALS). DigiCert offer a certificate test suite based on CRYSTALS. ISARA, the leading startup specialising in this area, opened is first European office.
Quantum Random Number Generators – on sale now
Almost all crypto systems make heavy use of random numbers, but conventional sources offer only pseudo-randomness or are potentially subject to bias. Correctly configured, quantum processes offer a source that is immutably random. Many early players in the quantum crypto sector such as IDQ, QuintessenceLabs and QuantumCTek already offer QRNG devices as part of their product suite. The profile of this sector took a significant step upwards in 2019 when SK Telecom announced it had protected its new 5G authentication centre with IDQ QRNG devices.
Such devices are also a natural early spinoff from technologies being developed for more advanced quantum applications. Many quantum startups have identified the QRNG market as a potential source of early revenue while more advanced products are developed. It’s therefore no surprise to see this offering feature in the product roadmaps of KETS, CQC, Bra-Ket and others. Hardware certification is set to be a key battleground in this market. In 2019 ITU-T published X.1702, the first quantum specific standard for QRNG architecture.
Quantum Key Distribution – starting to mature
QKD offers a physics-based alternative for one important aspect of communications security – the secure exchange of encryption keys. Following it’s dramatic demonstration from space by China’s Micius satellite in 2017, activity around the world continues to accelerate.
China – still the undisputed leader in practical QKD deployment. In 2019, commercial use of the 2000km Beijing-Jian-Hefei-Shanghai QKD backbone has continued with users such as banks ICBC and CMBC and the Xinhau news agency. Trials are underway for its use in the Chinese customs systems and the ERP systems of import/export companies. A Wuhan-Hefei link is already under construction and a Beijing-Guanzhuo link is in planning . In Korea, SK Telecoms deployed IDQ QKD hardware within its backbone network (initially the major Seoul-Daejeon section).
Europe – OPENQKD launched seeking to link existing European centres of QKD activity such as the Cambridge, Madrid, Geneva and Poznan. Going even further, 19 countries signed up to support the QCI initiative to study the operational deployment of QKD in Europe. In 2019 the UK Quantum Network hosted a series of future pointing demonstrations: long-term operation of shared quantum/data channels over commercial grade fibre; extension of the network to the BT-led tech cluster at Adastral Park; demonstrations of QKD on the UK 5G testbed. The UK is collaborating with Singapore’s CQT on satellite based QKD. The SpooQy-1 CubeSat mission successfully launched to test underlying components.
US – progress in 2019 continued to be spearheaded by commercial players: Quantum Xchange has piloted point-to-multipoint commercial QKD installations in New York. One time pioneers MagiQ, who had for some time been quiet about quantum cryptography, are now again actively marketing a QKD solution. Qubitekk targeted utility grid protection.
Rest of the world – Toshiba, NEC, NICT and leading Japanese universities are collaborating on a Quantum secure cloud (with medical and personal genome data being a particular target application). QuintessenceLabs, assisted by funding from the Australian Department of Defence, is developing its own CV QKD technology. The IQC is developing the Open QKD Network project, to provide a layered framework for the incorporation of QKD into conventional communications systems. KNRTU-KAI demonstrated a 143km inter-city link in Russia.
In principle QKD offers perfect security. However in the past, real-world concerns about side-channel attacks targeting implementation weaknesses have undermined this claim. China has been active in seeking to test and resolve such vulnerabilities and in promoting work on hardware standards that will reassure potential customers.