QNu Labs

Dark Side of Quantum Computers – A Lurking Threat to National Security

Dark Side of Quantum Computers

Quantum computing has long promised the next major leap forward in computing power. However, there is a darker side to it. It has the potential to undermine the foundations of internet privacy and commerce.

Cryptosystems are designed to cope with the worst-case scenarios: an adversary with infinite computing resources can get access to plaintext/ciphertext pairs (and thus could study the relationship between each pair) and know the encryption and decryption algorithms; and can thereby choose plaintext or ciphertext values at will.

The only element not accessible to this adversary is the secret key; thus, the security of a cryptosystem depends solely on the security of the key. This is a long-standing design philosophy first enunciated by Auguste Kerckhoff in 1883 which states: “The security of a cryptosystem must not depend on keeping the crypto-algorithm a secret. The security depends only on keeping the key a secret. 

Today’s encryption (secret) keys are highly vulnerable due to many reasons such as weak randomness, advances to CPU power, new attack strategies, emergence of new algorithms such as Shor’s, which when run on quantum computers will ultimately render much of today’s encryption unsafe. Recent news and disclosures have shown the stark reality and the ugly face of data security.

  • Snowden disclosed in 2013 that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a British agency, had been copying 20 petabytes of data every day off optical fibers around the world under a secret project “Tempora” and had been passing on the encrypted data to the National Security Agency (NSA).
  • A Reuters report in 2013 mentioned that NSA paid $10 million to put its backdoor in RSA encryption such that, the programme had a random number generator, but there were a number of fixed, constant numbers built into the algorithm that could function as a kind of skeleton key. Anyone who knew the right numbers could decipher the resulting crypto text.
  • Another recent news with an interesting title, ‘The intelligence coup of the century’ shook the world. For decades, the CIA and the West German intelligence had been reading the encrypted communications of over 60+ countries, including allies and adversaries for decades.There are also echoes of Crypto in the suspicions swirling around modern companies with alleged links to foreign governments.

While the bright side of powerful Quantum Computers (QCs) will help solve lot of problems for humanity and give a huge boost to the discovery of drugs, new materials and space research, at the same time the dark side of QCs will accelerate the maturation of three of the top ten global risks, namely: cyber-attacks, data theft or fraud and breakdown of information infrastructure. These global risks will create another sort of havoc by exposing and threatening the leakage of national defence secrets.

A definite concern is that data encrypted today can be intercepted and stored by state-sponsored hackers or other well-funded hackers for decryption in future by quantum computers. This is known as the “Harvest Now Decrypt Later” attack.

Quantum safe technology needs to be adopted to safeguard the hacking of encryption keys. A technology that can address the practical difficulties such as the generation of long random keys, distribution of keys to recipients and, the synchronisation of the sender and receiver to make sure the same keys are used for the same message, thereby ensuring that the keys are never reused.

Dark side of Quantum Computing

Need Of The Hour

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is one such technology that addresses all of the above mentioned challenges. It is a key establishment and distribution protocol which creates a shared symmetric key material by using quantum properties of light to transfer information from Alice to Bob in a manner that will highlight any eavesdropping by an adversary. This can be used to derive a key, and the resultant key material can then be used to encrypt plaintext using a one-time pad encryption or AES to provide unconditional security. QKD is especially good at creating long random keys from a short input – key extension functionality, which could be invaluable for OTPs.

QKD is a unique weapon in the cryptographer’s toolbox, albeit potentially powerful, empowering our defence and intelligence organisations with detection and prevention capabilities in case of any attempt of eavesdropping. Defence can leverage the power of quantum secure solutions in the following applications:

  • QKD for backbone bulk connectivity: Dynamic and effective key changes on important backhaul of OFC (Optical Fiber Communication) links and even tactical bulk communication media in the field.
  • Secure OFC ring networks: Development of static internet communication networks especially optical fibre ring networks in cantonments and other sensitive areas.
  • Secure internet-based services: The growing dependency on internet-based service is a potential security threat and the use of strong encryption with QKD presents a viable solution.
  • Generation of large number of highly random keys: The keys must be truly random to be effective. True entropy can be achieved by using a quantum source for entropy, called ‘Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG)’.
  • Network-based encryption key distribution and management: Replacement of out-dated manual key management systems with real time key distribution and management using QKD.

QNu Labs is India’s one and only quantum secure communication company offering quantum safe internet and cloud security solutions. QNu Labs offers two products – Tropos (Quantum Random Number Generator) and Armos (Quantum Key Distribution System). These offerings make security of critical data unconditional and future proof. Our quest has been to offer crypto agility to organisations where the existing infrastructure can be upgraded to be quantum secure in a seamless manner without any disruption in the business and any wastage of existing investments. QNu Labs has achieved this by replacing the vulnerable core of data security that relies on the complexity of mathematical algorithms with the unique principles of quantum physics.

QNu Labs is highly passionate and motivated about its mission of accelerating the world’s transition to quantum safe security solutions to protect critical data from an imminent Y2Q (Years to Quantum Computers) event, which will bring a “crypto apocalypse”. The company was selected by MoD (Ministry of Defence) to present its unique offering in the India Pavilion of DefExpo 2020 and we chose to showcase a use case of “Quantum Channel-based Real-time Key Distribution” along with BEL (Bharat Electronics Limited). We saw a good footfall with some of the top Indian and foreign defence personnel visiting our booth to discuss the possible solutions of leveraging QNu’s technology in order to create a quantum safe secure network.

                                                                                                                            –The author is Co-founder and CEO, QNu Labs Pvt. Ltd