The second quantum revolution is underway.
Global cyber security experts are gearing up to defend against attacks before quantum computers have even become a reality. This is because sensitive information often has a life span of 5, 10 or more years, and because it will take time to upgrade systems to be quantum safe. The time to act is therefore now.
Worryingly, encrypted data today may already be at risk of being stolen and stored for later decryption when quantum computers become readily available. Hot topics for security experts in developing proactive defences against this new generation of technology are quantum random number generators and quantum key distribution (QKD).
Doctor Jane Melia is a vice president of strategic business development with quantum pioneer QuintessenceLabs, based in Canberra, with an office in San Jose, Silicon Valley.
Dr Melia, who has a professional background with Silicon Valley startups, says the quantum revolution brings with it both security and policy implications. She has a special interest in the international ‘Quantum Race’ - in particular, efforts by the US and China to develop quantum technology.
“Quantum computers are developing extremely rapidly and they’re more advanced than we thought they would be by now,” she said.
“For example, the Chinese government invested US$10 billion in building a quantum research super center, and the UK, Canada, US and Australia are all investing significantly ... we all want to be first, or at least among the first, to develop the quantum computer.”
“There is a real move in Australia towards recognising the importance of quantum technology to our future data protection needs. We are leading the world in many aspects of the discipline. In fact, the Australian of the Year for 2018 is Professor Michelle Simmons, herself a quantum physicist.”
Australia is leading the way in quantum technology, particularly from QuintessenceLabs, a high-technology company started by physicists from the Australian National University, the University of New South Wales and the Quantum Group at the University of Sydney, among several others.
Dr Melia said QuintessenceLabs are leading the charge in meeting the challenge of new ultra-powerful quantum computers and are already assisting the Australian Government Department of Defence expand its QKD capabilities.
“QKD research is some of our most important work for the future of cyber security. QKD allows the exchange of cryptographic keys that is protected by the laws of physics, and, therefore, invulnerable to quantum attacks,” she said. “Without this type of development, the process of exchanging encryption keys will be vulnerable to attacks by quantum computers, making secure communication difficult.”
Dr Melia also highlighted the fact that quantum-enabled cyber security is a reality today, one example being QuintessenceLabs’ quantum random number generator.
“Most encryption today is protected by keys that are generated using maths,” she said.
“QuintessenceLabs has developed a true random number generator leveraging quantum physics instead. No computer, quantum or otherwise can guess these keys, so they effectively remove a potential weakness in data protection.”
QuintessenceLabs key and policy managers are nearly always deployed with embedded quantum random number generators to enable enterprises to have stronger security today, enhanced by quantum science.”
QuintessenceLabs’ vice president said cyber security threats were very real, relevant and can impact today’s data, even though quantum computers are not yet available.
“It is perfectly possible, even likely, that sensitive data is at risk of so-called ‘harvesting’ attacks, whereby an attacker warehouses the stolen data for decryption later once quantum computers mature,” Dr Melia said.
“The threat is getting nearer and the race is well and truly on.”
QuintessenceLabs. Founded in 2008 in Canberra, Australia, QuintessenceLabs is pushing back the boundaries of what is possible in data security, to let you push boundaries of your own. Our quantum cyber-security solutions deliver the strongest foundation for data protection today and for the future, harnessing the power of nature. They include a leading key and policy manager, an embedded high-speed quantum random number generator, and the safety of a secure key store. QuintessenceLabs is also at the forefront of the development of advanced quantum key distribution technology protecting sensitive data assets from the most sophisticated threats. Our customers and partners include major banks, government, defence and cloud service providers.