Quantum Key Distribution
Can Quantum Technologies Crack RSA Encryption as China Researchers Claim?
Scientists in China claim they have found a way for current-generation quantum computers to crack the RSA algorithm underlying the most common form of online encryption. The researchers said the encryption could be broken with a 372-quantum-bit (qubit) system using hybrid quantum-classical methods to overcome scaling limitations. The Chinese paper “Factoring integers with sublinear resources on a superconducting quantum processor” stated that the algorithm used factored a number with 48 bits on a quantum system with 10 qubits.
The likelihood that quantum computers would be able to crack online encryption was widely believed a danger that could lie a decade or more in the future. But the 24 researchers, from a number of China’s top universities and government-backed laboratories, said their research showed it could be possible using quantum technology that is already available. The quantum bits, or qubits, used in today’s machines are highly unstable and only hold their quantum states for extremely short periods, creating “noise.”
As a result, “errors accumulate in the computer and after around 100 operations there are so many errors the computation fails,” said Steve Brierley, chief executive of quantum software company Riverlane. That has led to a search for more stable qubits as well as error-correction techniques to overcome the “noise,” pushing back the date when quantum computers are likely to reach their full potential by many years. The Chinese claim, by contrast, appeared to be an endorsement of today’s “noisy” systems, while also prompting a flurry of concern in the cyber security world over a potentially imminent threat to online security.
By late last week, a number of researchers at the intersection of advanced mathematics and quantum mechanics had thrown cold water on the Chinese claim:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Peter Shor pointed out that the team had “failed to address how fast the algorithm will run,” as it could “still take millions of years.” Shor, the American mathematician who first proposed a way for quantum computers to crack encryption, predicted that the inability to run all the computations at once meant it would take “millions of years” for a quantum computer to run the calculation proposed in the paper. The Chinese research comes at a time when many companies working on the technology are in a race to prove that today’s “noisy” systems can reach so-called quantum advantage — the point at which a quantum computer can perform a useful task more efficiently than a traditional, or “classical”, machine, ushering in commercial use of the technology.
- Brierley at Riverlane said it “can’t possibly work” because the Chinese researchers had assumed that a quantum computer would be able to simply run a vast number of computations simultaneously, rather than trying to gain an advantage through applying the system’s quantum properties.
- Four years ago, John Preskill, a professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, predicted that quantum systems would start to outperform and might have commercial uses once they reached 50-100 qubits in size. But that moment has come and gone without quantum systems showing any clear superiority. IBM unveiled a 127-qubit computer more than a year ago, and last month announced that a new 433-qubit processor would be available in the first quarter of 2023. These days, Preskill sounds more cautious. “I expect that for practical applications with significant business value we’ll have to wait for error-corrected fault-tolerant quantum computers,” he said, adding that this was likely to be “a ways off.” But he added that today’s systems already had scientific value. One reason that hopes have retreated is that new ways have been found to program classical computers to handle tasks that were once thought to be beyond them.
This has pushed back the quantum frontier, delaying the moment when people building quantum systems can claim an advantage, said Oskar Painter, head of quantum hardware in the cloud computing division at Amazon, one of the tech companies that is building its own quantum computer. “They never finally could say, ‘This will be better,’” he said. After years of rising expectations, the lack of practical uses for the technology has led some experts to warn of a potential “quantum winter” — a period when disappointment about a new technology leads to a waning of interest for a number of years. The term is borrowed from the AI “winters” of the 1970s and 1980s, when a number of promising research avenues turned out to be dead ends, setting the field back for prolonged periods.
“People are worried it will be really harsh,” said Painter at Amazon Web Services. Like many in the field, though, he said that any short-term backlash was unlikely to hit long-term research funding. “I don’t think it will go away.” Receding hopes for early benefits from quantum computing have already contributed to a sharp fall in the stocks of a handful of companies that rode the wave of enthusiasm over the sector to go public since the middle of 2021. Based on their peak share prices soon after they each went public, Arquit, IonQ, D-Wave and Rigetti reached a combined value of $12.5bn. That has since fallen to $1.4bn.
Among the events to batter the quantum companies last year, IonQ was hit by a report from a short seller claiming its technology did not live up to its claims, while Rigetti founder Chad Rigetti was removed as chief executive before quitting the company late in the year.
Part of the problem facing the sector has been an excess of “hype” about the technology, said Constantin Gonciulea, chief technology officer of advanced technology at Wells Fargo. He compared the build-up of expectations around quantum to the crypto industry, as many non-experts have been drawn into the field and promises for the technology have far outgrown its potential in the near term. Despite this, companies working on the first quantum machines and software still insist that practical uses of the technology are just around the corner — while continuing to carefully avoid giving too precise a prediction about exactly when that will be.
David Rivas, head of engineering and product at Rigetti, said that the company still believed it would reach quantum advantage when its computers have “a few hundred to a few thousand qubits.” Even if they cannot match the performance of today’s supercomputers, they will still be useful if they cost much less, or if they can operate faster or with more precision, he said. For some quantum companies, the startling Chinese claim about online encryption was a sign that the technology’s big moment is drawing nearer. But for the doubters, the apparent impracticality of the research will serve as confirmation that quantum computing is still an impressive science experiment rather than a practical technology.
Quantum Technologies Update: U.S. vs China now and in the future
AT&T will be “quantum ready” by the year 2025; New fiber network launched in Indiana
New ITU-T SG13 Recommendations related to IMT 2020 and Quantum Key Distribution
Quantum Technologies Update: U.S. vs China now and in the future
The quantum computing market could be worth up to $5 billion by 2025, driven by competition between the US and China, according to London-based data analytics fir GlobalData whose Patent Analytics Database reveals that the U.S. is the global leader in quantum computing. The analytics company notes that China is currently about five years behind the U.S., and the recently passed U.S. CHIPS and Science Act will enhance U.S. quantum capabilities while hindering China.
Sidebar; What is a Quantum Computer:
Unlike a classical computer, which performs calculations one bit or word at a time, a quantum computer can perform many calculations concurrently. Quantum computers use a basic memory unit called a qubit, which has the flexibility to represent either zero, one or both at the same time. This ability of an object to exist in more than one form at the same time is known as superposition. The concept of entanglement is when multiple particles in a quantum system are connected and affect each other. If two particles become entangled, they can theoretically transmit and receive information over very long distances. However, the transmission error rates have yet to be determined.
Because quantum computers’ basic information units can represent all possibilities at the same time, they are theoretically much faster and more powerful than the regular computers we are used to.
Physicists in China recently launched a quantum computer they said took 1 millisecond to perform a task that would take a conventional computer 30 trillion years.
The aforementioned U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August 2022, represents an escalation in the growing tech war between the U.S. and China. The act includes measures designed to cut off China’s access to US-made technology. In addition, new export restrictions were announced on October 10, some of which took immediate effect. These restrictions prevent the export of semiconductors manufactured using US equipment to China. Currently, the U.S. is negotiating with allied nations to implement similar restrictions. Included in the CHIPS Act is a detailed package of domestic funding to support US quantum computing initiatives, including discovery, infrastructure, and workforce.
Among the many commercial companies researching the technology, IBM, Alphabet (parent company of Google), and Northrop Grumman have filed the most patents, with a respective 1,885, 1,000, and 623 total publications.
Earlier this week, IBM unveiled the largest quantum bit count (433 qubits) of its quantum computers to date, named Osprey, at this week’s IBM Quantum Summit. The company also introduced its latest modular quantum computing system.
“The new 433 qubit ‘Osprey’ processor brings us a step closer to the point where quantum computers will be used to tackle previously unsolvable problems,” IBM SVP Darío Gil said in a statement.
The IBM Osprey more than tripled the qubit count of its predecessor — the 127-qubit Eagle processor, launched in 2021. “Like Eagle, Osprey includes multi-level wiring to provide flexibility for signal routing and device layout, while also adding in integrated filtering to reduce noise and improve stability,” Jay Gambetta, VP of IBM Quantum wrote in a blog post.
The company claims Osprey is more powerful to run complex computations and the number of classical bits needed to represent a state on this latest processor far exceeds the total number of atoms in the known universe.
Gambetta noted IBM has been following along its quantum technology development roadmap. The company put its first quantum computer on the cloud in 2016 and aims to launch its first 1000-plus qubit quantum processor (Condor) next year and a 4000-plus qubit processor around 2025.
The US government has committed $3 billion in funding for federal quantum projects, which are either being planned or already underway, including the $1.2 billion National Quantum Computing initiative. In addition, the U.S. government almost certainly conducts quantum projects in secret through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
The U.S. government has committed $3bn in funding to federal quantum projects that are either already in train or being planned. The biggest project is the $1.2bn U.S. National Quantum Computing Initiative. Of course, the military and security services will be assiduously tending their own quantum gardens.
As expected, considerably less is known about China’s advancements and investments in quantum technology. The country proclaims itself to be the world-leader in secure quantum satcoms. The CCP (which runs the People’s Republic of China or PRC) can devote huge resources to any technology perceived to give the PRC a strategic geo-political advantage – such as global quantum supremacy.
“Quantum computing has become the latest battleground between the U.S. and China,” GlobalData associate analyst Benjamin Chin said in a statement. “Both countries want to claim quantum supremacy, not only as a matter of national pride but also because of the financial, industrial, scientific, and military advantages quantum computing can offer. “China has already established itself as a world leader in secure quantum satellite communications. Moreover, thanks to its autocratic economic model, it can pool resources from institutions, corporations, and the government. This gives China a distinct advantage as it can work collectively to achieve a single aim – quantum supremacy.”
China has already developed quantum equipment with potential military applications:
- This year, scientists from Tsinghua University developed a quantum radar that could detect stealth aircraft by generating a small electromagnetic storm.
- In 2017, the Chinese Academy of Sciences also developed a quantum submarine detector that could spot submarines from far away.
- In December 2021, China created a quantum communication network in space to protect its electric power grid against attacks, according to scientists involved in the project. Part of the network links the power grid of Fujian, the southeastern province closest to Taiwan, to a national emergency command centre in Beijing.
Consider Alibaba’s innocuously named DAMO Academy (Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook), which has already invested $15bn in quantum technology and will continue to plough more and more money into the venture. The Chinese government has also invested at least $10bn in the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science, whose sole purpose is to conduct R&D only into quantum technologies with “direct military applications.”
Photo: Shutterstock Images
Swiss company ID Quantique, a spin-off from the Group of Applied Physics at the University of Geneva, is launching technology to make satellite security quantum proof. The company was founded in 2011 and has more than a decade of experience in quantum key distribution systems, quantum safe network encryption, single photon counters and hardware random number generators. The latest additions to its portfolio are two extremely robust, ruggedized and radiation-hardened QRNG (Quantum Random Number Generator) chips designed and fabricated especially for space applications.
The generation of genuine randomness is a vital component of cybersecurity: Systems that rely on deterministic processes, such as Pseudo Random Number Generators (PRNGs), to generate randomness are insecure because they rely on deterministic algorithms and these are, by their nature, predictable and therefore crackable. The most reliable way to generate random numbers is based on quantum physics, which is fundamentally random. Indeed, the intrinsic randomness of the behaviour of subatomic particles at the quantum level is one of the very few absolutely random processes known to exist. Thus, by linking the outputs of a random number generator to the utterly random behaviour of a quantum particle, a truly unbiased and unpredictable system is guaranteed and can be assured via live verification of the numbers and monitoring of the hardware to ensure it is operating properly.
The two new space-hardened microprocessors, the snappily named IDQ20MC1-S1 and IDQ20MC1-S3, are certified to the equally instantly memorable ECSS-Q-ST-60-13, the standard that defines the requirements for selection, control, procurement and usage of electrical, electronic and electro-mechanical (EEE) commercial components for space projects. The IDQ20MC1-S3 is a Class 3 device, predominantly for use in low-earth orbit (LEO) missions. The IDQ20MC1-S1 is a Class 1 device, for use in MEO and GEO mission systems. IDQ is the first to enable satellite security designers to upgrade their encryption keys to quantum enhanced keys.
New ITU-T SG13 Recommendations related to IMT 2020 and Quantum Key Distribution
by Leo Lehmann, Chairman of ITU-T SG13 with background information and editing by Alan J Weissberger
ITU-T SG13 is the lead ITU-T study group on: future networks such as IMT-2020 networks (non-radio related parts), mobility
management, cloud computing, and trusted network infrastructure. The work is assigned to questions of which the following are related to the non radio aspects of IMT 2020:
Q.6: Quality of service (QoS) aspects including IMT-2020 networks
Q.20: IMT-2020: Network requirements and functional architecture
Q.21: Network softwarization including softwaredefined networking, network slicing and orchestration
Q.22: Upcoming network technologies for IMT-2020 and future networks
Q.23: Fixed-mobile convergence including IMT-2020
ITU-T SG13 Chairman’s Summary:
The recent (since October 2019) published IMT 2020 (non radio) related recommendations from ITU SG13 are the following:
- Y.3154 (Y.NetSoft-SSMO) Resource pooling for scalable network slice service management and orchestration in the IMT-2020 network. [see below this article for SG13 liaison to GSMA related to Network Slicing]
- Y.3108 (Y.IMT2020-CEF) Capability exposure function in the IMT-2020 networks
- Y.3132 (Y.FMC-MM) Mobility management for fixed mobile convergence in IMT-2020 networks
- Y.3133 (Y.FMC-CE) Capability exposure enhancement for supporting FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) in IMT-2020 networks
- Y.3173 (Y.ML-IMT2020 -Intelligence-level) Framework for evaluating intelligence level of future networks including IMT-2020
- Y.3174 (Y.ML-IMT2020 -Data-Handling) Framework for data handling to enable machine learning in future networks including IMT-2020
- Y.3175 (Y.qos-ml-arc) Functional architecture of machine learning based quality of service assurance for the IMT-2020 network
- Y.3154 (Y.NetSoft-SSMO) Resource pooling for scalable network slice service management and orchestration in the IMT-2020 network
Not directly related to IMT 2020, but generally related to network orchestration and optimization is Y.3652 (Y.bDDN-req) “Requirements of big data driven networking” as an useful new document in the Y.365x series.
In addition, SG13 has published two new recommendations for networks to support quantum key distribution (QKD)  :
- Y.3800 (Y.QKDN_FR) Overview on networks supporting quantum key distribution
- Y.3801 (Y.QKDN_req) Functional requirements for quantum key distribution networks
- Y.3800 describes the basic conceptual structures of QKD networks as the first of a series of emerging ITU standards on network and security aspects of quantum information technologies. SG13 standards for QKD networks – networks of QKD devices and an overlay network – will enable the integration of QKD technology into large-scale ICT networks.
Complementing these activities SG17 standards provide recommendations for the security of these QKD networks.
Note 1. Quantum key distribution (QKD) is a technology using quantum physics to secure the distribution of symmetric encryption keys which solves the problem of key distribution by allowing the exchange of a cryptographic key between two remote parties with information-theoretic security, guaranteed by the fundamental laws of physics. This key can then be used securely with conventional cryptographic algorithms.
The threats posed by quantum computing have a wide range of impacts since public key algorithms such as Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA) and elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) are widely used in various security protocols and applications. How to design quantum-safe cryptography that can resist quantum computing attacks is a problem that must be considered for ICT systems to ensure security in the “quantum era”.
In general, there are three possible means to combat quantum computing attacks:
Enhancement of current crypto system: Doubling the current key size can resist Grover’s algorithm which provides a quadratic speed-up for quantum search algorithms in comparison to search algorithms on classical computers. However, this is only suitable for symmetric key systems.
Design of new public key system: Utilizing new mathematical problems which have not been cracked by current quantum algorithms, e.g., lattice-based and code-based cryptography algorithms, which are more often called post-quantum cryptography (PQC). However, even if those new mathematical problems might be proven as robust against known quantum algorithms, they will not be proven secure against quantum algorithms that might be created in the future.
Use of QKD to replace public key based key exchange mechanism: The security of QKD is based on quantum physics principles, which can effectively avoid the threats caused by the increase of computational power or algorithmic “backdoors” faced by traditional public key algorithms. QKD is already proven as robust against quantum algorithms that might be created in the future.
According to Wikipedia, Quantum key distribution is only used to produce and distribute a key, not to transmit any message data. This key can then be used with any chosen encryption algorithm to encrypt (and decrypt) a message, which can then be transmitted over a standard communication channel. The algorithm most commonly associated with QKD is the one-time pad, as it is provably secure when used with a secret, random key. In real-world situations, it is often also used with encryption using symmetric key algorithms like the Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm.
Liaison Q & A between GSMA and ITU-T SG13 on Network Slicing – Important output liaison from March 2020 SG13 meeting:
Question #1: Network slicing is one of the main features of 5G networks and has been defined by 3GPP. GSMA NEST (NEtwork Slice Type) would like to understand how ServiceProfile from 3GPP TS 28.530 fits into IMT-2020 network slice configuration?
Question #3: What is the relationship between ITU-T NST (Network Slice Template) and GSMA GST (Generic network Slice Template) and 3GPP ServiceProfile?
Answer: ITU-T Q21/13 has recognized the necessity of translation processes from GSMA GST into 3GPP ServiceProfile. Q21/13 is studying the processes with the analysis of IMT-2020 use-cases, and trying to define useful parameters and information for the processes without overlap between SDOs.
Separately, Network Slicing will be further defined in 3GPP Release 16.
About Leo Lehmann:
Since April 2015, Leo Lehmann, PhD has been the elected Chairman of ITU-T Study Group 13 (Future networks including cloud computing, mobile and next-generation networks). Prior to his election, Leo was the ITU-T SG13 vice-chairman and working party co-chairman since October 2008.
Leo works full time at OFCOM -Switzerland, taking care of the regulation of mobile and fixed/mobile converged networks. Prior to joining OFCOM (Switzerland’s regulator) in 2002, Leo held senior management positions in network engineering, system design and services at major telecommunications players on both the vendor and operator side of business.
From 2012 until 2014, Leo also was Vice-chairman of the ITU-T Focus Group on Disaster Relief Systems, Network Resilience and Recovery (FG DR& NRR). Afore he was the Rapporteur on “multimedia service mobility management” in the ITU-T Study Group 16 (Multimedia Services) for many years.
An internationally recognized expert, Leo has worked in telecommunications for 24 years and has experience in private industry as well as the public sector.
As a designated expert on Next Generation Networks and Future Networks including 5G and Multimedia, he has contributed papers and talks at many conferences and workshops. Dr Lehmann is one of the winners of the best paper award of the ITU-T Kaleidoscope event 2011 “The fully networked human? − Innovations for future networks and services.”
https://www.itu.int/md/T17-SG13-190628-TD-WP1-0384 (Network Slicing Requirements-ITU TIES users only)