Quantum Safe Encryption is coming to a network near you

Back from the Quantum Networks Summit in Paris we learned that governments around the world are starting to require Quantum Safe cryptography, that standard bodies such as ETSI have been working on the subject for over 10 years, and that single photon quantum transmission equipment are already implemented in many networks including the Port of Rotterdam.

What’s at risk?

There are no quantum computer systems currently available that could break today’s encryption, but the fear is that transmissions could be recorded and then decrypted later.

The consensus is that symmetric key systems such AES are safe but that public key algorithms like RSA are not.

What has been the industry response?

There are two major prongs of response:

  • Development of new public key algorithms. NIST has been the leading entity in encouraging the industry development of new algorithms and have closed public comment in November 2023.

  • Use of proprietary quantum key distribution (QKD) for highly sensitive aggregate links.

Status of public key algorithms (PQC algorithms)

NIST is expected to release the algorithms in June 2024. This will mark the beginning, not the end of shifting widely deployed public key systems to future standards.

As experience indicates, it is likely that one or more of these algorithms will have weaknesses uncovered as the industry focuses attention on their deployment.  That said most observers, including NSA, consider PQC algorithms to be the long-term solution that will be widely deployed. 

What is QKD?

QKD is an optical technology that uses the quantum states of photons of light to transmit a secret key.  You need additional systems for key management and distribution in complex topologies.

State of play for QKD

The technology is still in its early days and generally is limited to distances under 100 km but solutions exist already for muti-hop and mesh topology networks. Experiments with satellites suggest that transmission over long distance is possible.

Among the players in the QKD arena, that were present at the show are ID Quantique from Switzerland active since 2001and a very promising startup from Spain named LuxQuanta.  Established industry players such as Toshiba and Nokia are active in QKD and network players such as Cisco and Juniper have functioning interfaces to integrate QKD into the network.

Carriers around the world are beginning to test QKDs to protect their networks.  Two recent examples are Toshiba and Orange and Nokia and Proximus.

Europe is aggressively funding quantum communication infrastructure with its EuroQCI initiative. 

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