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
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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.
AT&T will be “quantum ready” by the year 2025; New fiber network launched in Indiana
AT&T is aiming to become “quantum ready” by the year 2025, said an AT&T quantum security and preparedness team member during this week’s AT&T Security Conference. The tier-one operator has been identifying its cryptographic assets, vetting post-quantum cryptography solutions, and taking trials to identify those solutions, according to Brian Miles, principal member of tech staff at AT&T. “We’ve got AT&T quantum ready on our roadmap by 2025,” Miles said, adding that doesn’t mean the company will be fully quantum secured.
“This just means that we have done all our due diligence. And we have a clear path forward and we have all the solutions identified to target and address some of the different problems posed by quantum computing.”
Quantum technologies function by harnessing the key characteristics of the theory of quantum mechanics, including superposition, entanglement and uncertainty. The resulting technologies are expected to be diverse and far reaching. For example, quantum computers are expected to overcome most “public key encryption” systems, presaging a radical change in cybersecurity. Given its aptitude for navigating complexity, quantum tools are expected to shave years off the time to market for medicines. Secure, efficient communications among drones and other autonomous vehicles will underpin safety and operational effectiveness in the crowded skies of the future. Of course, these nearer terms examples will be joined by applications barely yet imagined as the technology matures.
That effort should put AT&T in a better position before the cryptographically relevant quantum computer (CRQC) emerges. CRQC is defined as a quantum computer that reaches the compute capability to break an RSA-2048 key using Shor’s algorithm, according to Miles. Shor’s algorithm is a quantum computer algorithm developed in 1994 by American mathematician Peter Shor.
Miles also urges organizations to implement cryptography agility, which is a framework or architecture that allows companies to replace their cryptographic primitives, underlying cryptography, and encryption algorithms with little or no impact on the existing applications.
“In a nutshell, that means you get off board your cryptography, get it out of your applications, get it more centralized, ultimately put automation in place to make the underlying infrastructure [transition] relatively painless,” he explained.
The next significant step is to identify the cryptographic assets and who has the responsibility for that inventory within the company, Miles noted.
“It’s incredibly important to get started on a crypto-agile architecture roadmap within your company quickly,” he said. “The whole crypto-agile architecture at least gives you the tools and the ability to pivot to different cryptography on short notice.”
Separately, AT&T is connecting its first customers to its new fiber network in Indiana. The company is investing $29.7 million – on top of $9.9 million contributed by Vanderburgh County, allocated from the American Rescue Plan – to build to 20,000 locations.
In a press release, AT&T calls Vanderburgh a “largely rural community where roughly one-third of homes, farms and businesses did not have access to fixed broadband service before this fiber build.” The network build is expected to be complete in November 2023 and will deliver service up to 5 Gbit/sec.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring high-speed, reliable broadband to communities across the country,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey. “Combining public sector funding and private sector investment is the most cost-effective way to ensure more Americans are able to take advantage of robust connectivity. This type of public-private partnership can serve as a model to help close the digital divide once and for all.”
“If you live in a big city, you probably take your high-speed internet for granted. But it’s a different story in rural parts of the country,” said Cheryl Musgrave, commissioner, Vanderburgh County. “Fortunately, through this collaboration with AT&T, thousands of our rural neighbors will have a new story to tell, because they’ll also have access to fiber-powered broadband.
“I’m truly excited to see the impact this new connectivity will have on our schools and families, and the economic growth of our community,” Musgrave added.
AT&T worked quickly to bring the benefits of fiber to Vanderburgh County residents and businesses, with the network core becoming operational only seven months after the previously announced contract agreement was finalized. That allowed AT&T to connect the first fiber locations earlier than expected. The project will be completed by November 2023.
The new fiber network is capable of delivering speeds up to 5 Gbps on both upload and download. The faster speeds and capacity mean customers can now connect to data intensive online tools and applications, deploy precision agriculture technologies and access vital education resources.
AT&T has extensive experience deploying fiber-optics across Indiana. In fact, hundreds of thousands of locations in the state have access to AT&T Fiber today. AT&T is also currently working with the City of Boonville and the City of Martinsville on public-private partnerships to bring AT&T Fiber to those communities.
BT and Toshiba commercial trial of a ‘quantum-secured’ metro network
BT and Toshiba have launched what they say is the world’s first “commercial trial” of a quantum-secured metro network (QSMN).
The QSMN infrastructure will be able to connect numerous customers across London, helping them to secure the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations over standard fiber optic links using quantum key distribution (QKD).
QKD is an important technology, playing a fundamental role in protecting networks and data against the emerging threat of cyber-attack using quantum computing. The London network represents a critical step towards reaching the UK government’s strategy to become a quantum-enabled economy
The QSMN is a three-node London exchange fiber optic ring using commercially available QKD hardware from Toshiba. BT provided fiber connectivity and “quantum-enabled” local exchanges.
German based optical network vendor ADVA is also involved in the QSMN. For the dedicated QKD “access tails,” BT used a commercially available Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect (OSA FC) solution from Openreach, the UK incumbent’s infrastructure arm. OSA FC was developed by ADVA.
Financial services firm EY, the network’s first commercial customer, will use the network to connect two of its sites in London, one in Canary Wharf, and one near London Bridge. It will demonstrate how data secured using QKD can move between sites and will showcase the benefits this network brings to its own customers.
BT is working with EY (a non paying customer) and others that want to try QSMN to work out which types of QKD services will be in demand and how the business case might pan out. That initiative will likely be done over a three-year period,
“It’s a commercial trial in the sense that it’s built on commercial kit,” Professor Tim Whitley, managing director at BT’s applied research division, told Light Reading.
“It’s also a commercial trial in the sense that, unlike many trials around, it is effectively integrated in and part of a national operator’s communications infrastructure. It is managed out of our national operations center at Adastral Park.”
BT and Toshiba announced their commitment to creating a trial network in October 2021. BT will operate the network, providing a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over Openreach’s private fibre networks, while Toshiba will provide quantum key distribution hardware and key management software. In the network, QKD keys will be combined with the in-built ethernet security, based on public-key based encryption, which will enable the resultant keys to be used to encrypt the data.
Some recent QKD history:
- BT and Toshiba have been conducting QKD trials since 2013, including a recent collaboration to provide a point-to-point QKD link in Bristol between the National Composites Centre and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation.
- In April 2020, Leo Lehman wrote an article about New ITU-T SG13 Recommendations related to IMT 2020 and Quantum Key Distribution.
- In September 2020, Verizon said it was trialing QKD for encryption over Fiber Optic Links.
Howard Watson, CTO, BT stated: “Quantum-enabled technologies are expected to have a profound impact on how society and business operates in the future, but they are remarkably complex to understand, develop and build: in particular, ensuring that the end-to-end service designs meet the stringent security requirements of the market. I’m incredibly proud that BT and Toshiba have successfully united to deliver this unique network, and with EY as our first trial customer, we are paving the way for further commercial explorations for quantum technologies and their use in commercial, and societal applications in the future.”
Shunsuke Okada, Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Toshiba commented: “Both Toshiba and BT have demonstrated world-class technology development and leadership through decades of innovation and operation. Combining BT’s leadership in networks technologies and Toshiba’s leadership in quantum technologies has brought this network to life, allowing businesses across London to benefit from quantum secured communications for the first time.”
Preparation, technical deployment and testing for the network commenced in late 2021. This included equipment deployment in racks, adding security systems and resilience testing, and finally running and optimising the network. While Tuesday 26th April marked the official launch of the network, it has been running since early April, and will operate for an initial period of up to three years.
Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland Managing Partner for Technology, Media and Telecoms (TMT), commented: “Quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business, but presents potential risks. Quantum secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component of doing business in a digital economy. Our work with two of the world’s leading technology innovators will allow us to demonstrate the power of quantum to both EY and our clients.”
The UK Government’s “strategic intent” to develop a quantum-enabled economy was first published in 2020. It sets out a vision for the next 10 years in which quantum technologies will become an integral part of the UK’s digital backbone, unlock innovation to drive growth and help build a thriving and resilient economy, and contribute significant value to the UK’s prosperity and security.
The London network represents an important step to building a national network for quantum secured communications, which will stimulate the growth of a quantum ready economy in the UK.
Howard Watson continued: “This is a significant moment in the UK’s journey towards a quantum-enabled economy, but we’re not there yet. Further investment commitments will be required to broaden the study of quantum technologies that will contribute to this new economy, including quantum computing, quantum cryptography and quantum communications. We look forward to working with our government and industry partners to continue the momentum BT has started and shaping the UK’s quantum strategy.”
The technical collaboration for this network was conducted in BT’s Adastral Park labs in Suffolk, UK, and the Quantum technology Business Division of Toshiba, based in Tokyo, Japan and Cambridge, UK, where the quantum key distribution technology has been developed and is manufactured.
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Deutsche Telekom’s T-Labs enters research partnership to progress quantum technologies
Deutsche Telekom said it is taking part in the Platform and Ecosystem for Quantum-Assisted Artificial Intelligence project to conduct research into quantum technologies, under the leadership of research and development unit T-Labs. Deutsche Telekom will carry out research activities and tests for potential use cases of quantum technologies, particularly for network operators. A consortium of 15 partners and 33 associated partners are taking part the research projects, funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Economy.
T-Labs will provide specific use cases from the field of telecommunications, including the optimization of communication networks, Industry 4.0 applications or AI-clustering problems for customer segments. Quantum algorithms can provides solutions to the complexity and size of applications. Quantum computers could be used for Deutsche Telekom’s operational business.
Quantum algorithms for telecommunication providers
Quantum computers promise an exponential increase in processing speed for selected problem classes. For example, in combinatorial optimization problems or the training of AI models (AI: artificial intelligence). In communication science, Shor’s algorithm is usually considered the “killer application” of quantum computing. This is because quantum computers can use it to attack today’s security infrastructures.
In the PlanQK project, T-Labs provides some specific use cases from the field of telecommunications. These include the optimization of communication networks, Industry 4.0 applications or AI-clustering problems for customer segments. These applications have a high level of complexity and, if the problem exceeds a critical size, can only be calculated classically with great difficulty. Here, quantum algorithms promise the solution. With growing size, quality and processing speed, quantum computers could find their way into Telekom’s operational business.
The path to a standardized quantum app store
However, the goal is not only to evaluate and demonstrate the applicability of current quantum technology for use at Telekom. The PlanQK project also seeks to prevent the risk of any one company achieving a dominant market position and setting de facto industry standards. This project is targeted at ensuring the development and establishment of a vendor-independent platform and associated ecosystem for quantum-assisted artificial intelligence. Users could then, for example, compile solutions for their company or commission them via the cloud or a quantum app store.
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