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Could we Prevent Digital Eavesdropping?


Posted on: March 13, 2015 by Frederik Kerling

Welcome to Quantum Encryption 101

Across the world, numerous governments are working in the shadows to create a new form of technology that will be able to decrypt secure data files and transfers, allowing them access to all kinds of information and intelligence. It may sound like your worst nightmare, but the development of quantum computing is already happening. Although no one has cracked it yet - to our knowledge – it is theoretically probable and we can be certain that many different agencies are trying.

Quantum computers would be immeasurably more powerful than traditional machines. While current computers are inherently limited thanks to their binary nature (a number system using 1s and 0s that are then grouped together as bytes), quantum computers are non-binary allowing exponentially more calculations to be made.

To understand the impact this could have on data security we should consider the RSA Code, a common encryption algorithm that is based on the principle of prime number calculation. For the current level of computing it is an effective encryption that would take a classical computer several years to hack. With a quantum computer, it could be decrypted within the click of a mouse.

Safeguarding our Future Data

In response to the threats offered by quantum computing also quantum encryption is developed. This is an umbrella term comprising of two distinct technologies: Post-Quantum Cryptography (P-QC) and Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). The former refers to a form of coding that is secure against any known quantum computing algorithms – though it is likely to be vulnerable to unknown and untreated threats.

QKD is somewhat different, offering a secure distribution network via which security keys can be shared. Providing protection from digital eavesdropping, QKD uses a special quantum effect which causes the transmission to change if any external party attempts to hijack the signal. Given that even in today’s connected world organizations would rather transport highly sensitive information physically – using planes, trains and automobiles – than transmit it via current digital means, it is an exceptionally effective solution to an age-old problem.

A Work in Progress

The technology is not foolproof yet. With QKD, although the data is safe while being sent, once it reaches its destination it is once again open to being hacked. And, although the technology is theoretically perfect, it relies on the initial implementation being done correctly.

Expertise is also a barrier to widespread adoption. Both QKD and P-QE require incisive consulting and a level of skills that is rare even in the cyber security industry. We are one of only a handful of commercial entities with a focus on this type of technology.

While the underlying concept of quantum computing has been around since the 1970s, quantum cryptography has only been commercially available over the last decade. And with many predicting the first quantum computer existing within the next ten to fifteen years, its continued development is now something of a race against time for businesses and governments globally

Look out for our next post, where we’ll be looking at how quantum encryption is being used today…

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About Frederik Kerling
Head of FinTech, Senior Quantum Expert and member of the Scientific Community
Frederik Kerling is head of FinTech within the Financial Services & Insurance industry at Atos, where he is part of the portfolio and partnerships team. Frederik started his career as theoretical physicist specializing in Quantum engineering, moved through 7 years of cybersecurity consulting, and now focusses on business development for the financial sector. He is internationally active within the quantum community, develops patents, and teaches a course bridging the gap between business and technology at the university of Amsterdam. In his spare time he can be found exercising, gaming, teaching, and discussing quantum fundamentals.

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