Quantum Cryptography: The next-generation of secure data transmission

Quantum Computing will render much of today's encryption unsafe, says Dr. Andrew Shields, Cambridge Research Laboratory of Toshiba Research Europe, but Quantum Cryptography could be the solution Quantum Cryptography: The next-generation of secure data transmission image

Data proliferation continues to take place at an ever-accelerating rate, driven by greater mobility and emerging technologies such as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT). Such innovations have the potential to be highly beneficial to organisations, enabling them to instigate digital-transformation in new and evolving ways. The challenge, though, comes in ensuring the secure storage and transmission of a now unprecedented volume of data, in particular in the face of increasingly advanced cyber-threats. SonicWall recorded a 275 per cent year-on-year leap in encrypted threats in 2018, as well as a 229 per cent rise in ransomware attacks – a worrying trend for CIOs everywhere. That’s where Quantum Cryptography enters the story.

Of course, Europe’s IT decision-makers are fully aware of the need to counteract these threats, with the latest research from Toshiba revealing data security to be a top three IT investment priority for over half (52 per cent) of businesses. Yet as we head into 2019, many continue to fall behind in keeping informed and ahead of cyber-security trends and developments.

Quantum cryptography, which, by harnessing the principles of quantum physics, is ushering in a new dawn for secure online communication. As quantum computing comes to the fore, we are likely to see significant developments in the field of quantum cryptography in the coming year – but what is it that makes it so secure, and when will businesses be able to take advantage?

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How does quantum cryptography work?

Quantum cryptography provides a secure method for generating and distributing secret keys between two parties via an optical network. This is achieved by capitalising on the inherent unpredictability in the state of particles – such as photons or electron – to generate the random numbers needed for cryptographic applications. The technology then harnesses this to create and share a secret digital key that can be used to encrypt or authenticate information via streams of encoded single photons, which are sent through an optical communication network.

The arrival of quantum cryptography

The arrival of quantum computing will ultimately render much of today’s encryption unsafe. The current consensus that public key encryption is an essential part of data security is starting to be questioned in the face of new attack strategies – which is subsequently driving uptake of robust quantum cryptography solutions and services to deliver better data security. As a result, the global quantum cryptography market is forecast to grow from USD 285.7 Million in 2017 to USD 943.7 Million by 2022, a CAGR of 27 per cent according to Research and Markets. In reality, however, as things stand today quantum cryptography is not quite so close to mainstream fruition. Regardless, this shouldn’t detract from its essential and unparalleled value as we move into the quantum age. With that in mind, how far away from quantum cryptography are we, and what needs to be achieved to make it a reality?

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Breakthroughs and research

Even if not yet available in the commercial space, we are beginning to see notable advancements in the scientific field as researchers start to deploy quantum cryptography in order to demonstrate its benefits. Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Laboratory recently published a paper explaining a breakthrough made using a protocol known as Twin-Field QKD, extending the range of QKD to over 500 kilometres of standard telecom fibre. This creates the potential for secure communication between cities such as London, Paris, Dublin, Manchester and Amsterdam. Further still, large collaborative ventures such as the Innovate UK EQUIP project and the EU Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme are also striving to make QKD an accessible tool for the enterprise.

The future of Quantum Cryptography

With the potential to become the cornerstone technology in the future of data security, it won’t be long before we see corporations and government agencies adopting quantum cryptography to greatly advance their capabilities and day-to-day operations. However, it remains essential that quantum-resistant public-key cryptography becomes available within the near future in order for us to maintain  existing levels of information security within the age of quantum computing. Unlike other existing security solutions, quantum cryptography is secure from all future advances in mathematics and computing, including from the number-crunching abilities of a quantum computer.

Dr. Andrew Shields, Assistant Managing Director at The Cambridge Research Laboratory of Toshiba Research Europe Ltd

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