Quantum computing in the mainstream may be a while away – commentators note it may be more something for the 2040s than the 2020s – but the use of early quantum computers to decrypt communications and web traffic is certainly a threat for this decade. While a qubit may not be, in itself ‘better than a bit, they are capable of performing calculations and running algorithms that digital bits cannot, and this makes them able to crack some of the standard cryptographic methods relatively easily.
It may not be mainstream, but well-funded groups such as governments are working on this. Indeed, participants at a 6GWorld webinar as early as 2021 identified it as one of the key issues facing security in this decade.
As a result quantum resistant cryptography, the encoding and decoding of information in ways which are harder for quantum computers to crack, is a significant piece of keeping traffic private. This is especially true of government systems, of course, but it’s rare people who like the thought of being the subject of snooping by overseas governments.
ETSI, NIST, the ITU and other organisations have already been turning their attention to this problem; indeed, in 2022 NIST published a set of four algorithms judged to be suitable for resisting the efforts of quantum computers.
While it has not exactly been in the limelight, there are a few self-proclaimed ‘mad scientists’ working in this area at the intersection of quantum physics, security and telecoms. Very few. The fact that a company exists called Quantum Resistant Cryptography, or QRC, says it all.
However, it’s making waves in the right circles. In a conversation with 6GWorld CEO Stiepan Kovac observed that they are working in line with not just 3GPP and ITU standards (indeed, the company is referred to in ITU-T X.1811), but also with general ISO standards to enable a unified approach across not just telecoms devices and systems but others too.
In an age where we expect an increasing integration and twinning of digital and physical worlds this seems to make sense, but as an outside observer it also seems like a huge lift to work across standards bodies in very different areas.
“That is something we have discovered,” Kovac commented ruefully. “It turns out we are pioneers, but it needs to be done.”
The work maybe paying off, however. Just this week Japan granted a patent for a SIM card featuring QRC’s cryptography to deliver a quantum-safe 5G experience. Today Japan, tomorrow the world?
There’s a long way to go before this becomes a universal phenomenon. However, while it may be a small niche at the moment it’s going to grow fast as quantum threats become more realisable.
Alex Lawrence is Managing Editor at 6GWorld. His mission is to bring together stakeholders from across industries, countries and disciplines to make sure that, as technology evolves in the coming decade, it’s meeting the changing demands of society, government and business.
He has been involved as a professional nosy person in the telecoms sphere since 2004, with short detours through industrial O&M and marketing.
If you’d like to talk to Alex about your ideas or projects he’d love to hear from you. @animalawrence or firstname.lastname@example.org.