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