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Quantum Cryptography Uses Fundamental Physics to Protect Secret Data

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In August, the NSA updated its list of encryption algorithms approved for government use, with specific references to the emerging threat of future quantum computers able to break the best encryption methods used today. Last week, quantum physicists confirmed the solid foundations of quantum cryptography, which offers total security guaranteed by the laws of physics.

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Quantum computers can process information in ways that have no equivalent in classical computing by exploiting subtle quantum phenomena. Quantum computers may theoretically be able to solve certain problems – including code breaking – much faster than classical computer and perform computations that would be otherwise impossible. This explains the enthusiasm of researchers, venture capitalists, and the intelligence community for the first quantum computing demonstrations.

“The Information Assurance Directorate (IAD) will initiate a transition to quantum resistant algorithms in the not too distant future,” notes the NSA. “Our ultimate goal is to provide cost effective security against a potential quantum computer.”

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Last week Hacked reported that quantum physicists in the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK have confirmed in the lab that the weird instant correlations between remote “entangled” particles are real. The experimental result has important implications for both fundamental physics and the emerging science of quantum cryptography, which uses fundamental physics to keep data totally secure. The researchers noted:

This may enable the realization of large-scale quantum networks that are secured through the very same counter-intuitive concepts that inspired one of the most fundamental scientific debates for 80 years.

Hacked reached out to Gregoire Ribordy, Co-Founder and CEO of ID Quantique, a Swiss company focused on pioneering applications of quantum physics, to explore the current status, applications, and future prospects of quantum cryptography. Ribordy, who obtained his PhD for research on quantum cryptography from the University of Geneva in 2000, founded ID Quantique in 2001 with other three researchers of the University of Geneva, and has been running the company since then.

ID Quantique was the first company to bring a quantum random number generator to the market, and the first to deploy a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) system in a real world application – vote counting in Geneva federal elections in 2007. The company has 3 business units: quantum safe security, random number generators, and scientific instrumentation.

Quantum Security Based on Physics, Invulnerable to Computing Power

ID QuantiqueCould you explain as simply as possible how quantum cryptography works?

Quantum cryptography uses one of the fundamentally distinctive features of quantum physics, the fact that observation causes a perturbation (aka Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle), to detect interception on a communication link.

To take a simple image, you can think of a standard communication link as a tennis game. The emitter writes the message he wants to send on a tennis ball and sends it to his partner, who catches the ball and reads the message. It is of course possible for an eavesdropper to intercept the ball, read the message and resend the ball.

In quantum communications, we replace the tennis ball with a soap bubble. If someone tries to intercept it, it bursts and the communication is perturbed.

In practice, we don’t use soap bubble, but single-photon pulses, which travel down optical fibers. Single-photons are quantum objects and as such they are perturbed by observation.

It is said that future, very powerful quantum computers will be able to break today’s best encryption schemes. Do you agree, and how can quantum cryptography help?

We have known since 1994 and the invention by Peter Shor of the so called Shor Algorithm that quantum computers can be used to break the most commonly used public key encryption schemes. This means that it is important to transition to so called quantum-safe encryption techniques, before quantum computers become widely available.

Quantum cryptography is one of the quantum-safe techniques that can be used to replace the vulnerable public key encryption schemes. Its security is based on physics, and not on mathematics, which means that computing power, whether classical or quantum, does not have any impact on its security.

What are the implications for quantum cryptography of the recent experimental confirmation that entangled correlations are real?

This impressive experimental work is the final brick that confirms that quantum physics, as a scientific theory, provides a complete view of the microscopic world. This is a confirmation, if needed, that quantum physics is a sound and solid theory. As quantum crypto is based on this theory, its security is further strengthened.

The NSA recently announced plans to make plans to transition to quantum-resistant algorithms. What are the implications for your business?

This announcement is a confirmation of the progress in the field of quantum computing and its implication to the security of cryptography. It is for us a very important validation point of what we have been saying for quite sometime now.

We now need to transition to quantum-safe cryptographic techniques and we need to do that early enough, i.e. before a quantum computer becomes available.

It is important to understand that one risk is that data has a long lifetime, it could be intercepted and stored in encrypted format today, until a quantum computer becomes available to decrypt it. This is a major risk for long lived data, for example in the government, financial or healthcare sectors.

If quantum crypto is used, this kind of vulnerability does not exist any more.

Who needs your quantum hardware to generate random numbers, and why?

In addition to quantum crypto, we have also developed quantum random number generators. The idea is to use the fundamentally random nature of quantum physics to generate high-quality random numbers.

An increasing number of security vulnerabilities are linked to poor random number generators, which lead to weak keys, passwords, etc. It is essential to use a high-entropy random number generator in every application where randomness is essential. These include security applications, but also lotteries and casinos, as well as scientific simulations.

As a pragmatic quantum businessman, what do you think of quantum weirdness, philosophical implications, many worlds, Bell telephones, FTL signaling via entanglement and all that?

I think that quantum physics is weird only because it goes against our intuition, but the more we will be exposed to it the less it will seem weird. It is likely that quantum physics will not be as weird for younger generations of quantum engineers as it is for us.

I’m also a strong believer in the potential of applications of quantum physics, most of which we probably can’t grasp yet.

Images from Id Quantique and Pixabay.

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1 Comment

  1. Max Lundgren

    September 1, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Quantum systems for secure encryption of communications has been around for a long time.
    To declare if possible or safe or not, is to compare DES secure encryption with AES. or water o wine

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Breaches

Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet

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Uber Technologies Inc. has reportedly paid hackers to delete scores of private data stolen from the company in a security breach that was concealed for over a year. The revelation provides further confirmation that, when it comes to cyber security, crime does pay.

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Massive Data Breach

According to Bloomberg Technology, hackers retrieved the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers at some point last year. Nobody heard about it because the rideshare company paid the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet. A purge at the front office of Uber also ensured that the massive cyber breach was kept under wraps.

The compromised data was from October 2016 and included the names, phone numbers and addressed of 50 million Uber riders globally. About seven million drivers had their personal information accessed as well.

At the time of the cyber attack, Uber was inundated with a slew of legal issues stemming from alleged privacy violations. Rather than shine even more negative spotlight on the company, Uber executives decided to pay hackers to stay quiet.

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“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in September, said in a statement that was published by Bloomberg. “We are changing the way we do business.”

Hackers have done a masterful job infiltrating companies and governments in recent years. As a reminder, recent cyber attacks levied against Yahoo!, Target Corp and Equifax Inc. dwarf Uber’s 57 million compromised accounts.

Various reports indicate that cyber attacks are bleeding the global economy dry. One report, issued by the World Economic Forum, suggests that cyber crime cost the world economy $445 billion in 2016. If cyber crime were its own market cap, it would exceed Microsoft Inc., Facebook Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp

The Fall of Uber?

Uber revolutionized the ride-hailing business over the span of seven years by giving more power to the consumer. Several missteps later, the company finds itself in legal hot water, with its future appearing less certain than it did just one year ago.

The rideshare company faces at least five U.S. probes ranging from bribes to illicit software and right up to unethical pricing schemes. According to another Bloomberg report, Uber is under investigation for violating price transparency regulations, not to mention the alleged theft of documents for Google’s autonomous cars.

Some governments are sensing weakness in the ride-hailing service, and are moving toward banning the Uber app entirely. London is the most prominent example of a city that has taken definitive steps to outlaw the service over a “lack of corporate responsibility.”

Even with its legal troubles, Uber is a revolutionary technology that has influenced a bevy of other innovations aimed at improving the human experience.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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Cybersecurity

The Pirate Bay is Hijacking PCs to Stealth-Mine Cryptocurrency

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For the second time in as many months, The Pirate Bay has been caught mining cryptocurrency on your computer without consent. The torrent platform was actually test-driving cryptocurrency mining in your browser – no doubt a lucrative revenue stream.

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The Pirates Are At It Again

The Pirate Bay has been caught using software called Coinhive, a JavaScript library that essentially serves as a cryptocurrency miner. It basically connects to visitors’ computers to mine Monero, one of the world’s most profitable cryptocurrencies.

The news was later confirmed by Bleeping Computer, which reported that,”The Pirate Bay, the internet’s largest torrent portal, is back at running a cryptocurrency miner after it previously ran a short test in mid-September.”

Estimates indicate that the scheme has earned the pirates a total of $43,000 over a three-week period.

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Users had no way to opt their computers out of being test-driven by the torrent network. Back in September, The Pirate Bay got away by telling people it was just a test. The site’s owners cannot use the same excuse this time around.

CoinHive advises websites to let their visitors  know their browser is being used to mine cryptocurrency.

“We’re a bit saddened to see that some of our customers integrate CoinHive into their pages without disclosing to their users what’s going on, let alone asking for their permission,” the company said.

The good news is most ad-blockers and antivirus programs will block CoinHive, given its recent abuses. That means not all visitors of The Pirate Pay were being used as a conduit for mining Monero.

Monero Joins Global Crypto Rally

The value of Monero (XMR) shot up nearly 8% on Friday, and was last seen trading at $94.17. With more than 15.2 million XMR tokens in circulation, the total market cap for Monero is $1.4 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. That’s enough for ninth on the global cryptocurrency list.

Twelve cryptos have now crossed the $1 billion valuation mark. A handful of others have made their way north of $500 million.

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Breaches

Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility

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Digital currency Ethereum climbed to a two-month high on Monday, taking some of the heat off Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, which have slumped since the weekend.

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Ethereum Forges Higher Path

Concerns over Bitcoin created a favourable tailwind for Ethereum (ETH/USD), which is the world’s No. 2 digital currency by total assets. Ether’s price topped $340.00 on Monday and later settled at $323.54. That was the highest since June 20.

At its peak, ether was up 10% on the day and 70% for the month of August.

The ETH/USD was last down 2.2% at $315.02, according to Bitfinex. Prices are due for a brisk recovery, based on the daily momentum indicators.

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Fractured Bitcoin Community

Bitcoin and its offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, retreated on Monday following a volatile weekend. The BTC/USD slumped at the start of the week and was down more than 3% on Tuesday, with prices falling below $3,900.00. Just last week, Bitcoin was trading at new records near $4,500.00.

Bitcoin Cash, which emerged after the Aug. 1 hard fork, climbed to new records on Saturday, but has been in free-fall ever since. The BTH was down another 20% on Tuesday to $594.49, according to CoinMarketCap. Its total market value has dropped by several billion over the past two days.

Analysts say that a “fractured” Bitcoin community has made Ethereum a more attractive bet this week. The ether token has shown remarkable poise over the past seven days, despite trading well shy of a new record.

Other drivers behind Ethereum’s advance are steady demand from South Korean investors and growing confidence in a smooth upgrade for the the ETH network. The upgrade, which has been dubbed “Metropolis,” is expected in the next several weeks. Its key benefits include tighter transaction privacy and greater efficiency.

Ethereum Prices Unaffected by ICO Heist

Fin-tech developer Enigma was on the receiving end of a cyber-heist on Monday after hackers took over the company’s website, mailing list and instant messaging platforms. The hack occurred three weeks before Enigma’s planned Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for September 11.

In addition to defacing the company’s website, the hackers pushed a special “pre-sale” ahead of the ICO. While many users realized it was a scam, 1,492 ether tokens – valued at $495,000 – were directed into the hackers’ cryptocurrency wallet by unsuspecting backers.

The irony in all this is that Engima is a cryptography company that prides itself on top-notch security protocols. The company issued a statement that its servers had not been compromised.

ETH/USD (Bitfinex)

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