​Defence awards AU$3.26m to QuintessenceLabs for quantum cyber development

The Australian Department of Defence has allocated AU$3.26 million to explore the feasibility of the establishment of highly secure communications links to defend against 'malicious cyber intrusion and disruption'.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Quantum cybersecurity firm QuintessenceLabs (QLabs) has picked up AU$3.26 million in funding from the Australian Department of Defence to continue the expansion of its quantum key distribution capabilities and develop an Australia-specific solution.

It is expected the solution will protect defence and other critical Australian government systems from "malicious cyber intrusion and disruption", and enhance the resilience of defence networks, both locally and abroad.

"The solution will resolve eavesdropping issues impacting secure communications, protecting those communications both from current attacks and future quantum computing threats. Importantly, it will extend this capability from fibre optic networks to the next frontier: Free space, quantum key distribution," QLabs said in a statement.

Speaking with ZDNet earlier this year, QLabs CEO Vikram Sharma explained the bigger picture of what QLabs does is build random number generators using quantum techniques as well as build key management systems which generate, store, and distribute key material.

Quantum key distribution uses quantum properties to exchange secret information -- such as cryptographic keys -- in a way that's invulnerable to cyber threats. The security of quantum key distribution is based on a fundamental characteristic of quantum mechanics: The act of measuring a quantum system disturbs the system.

"Thus, an eavesdropper trying to intercept a quantum exchange will inevitably leave detectable traces, allowing the legitimate exchanging parties to discard the corrupted information," the company explained on Tuesday.

"Since it is protected by the laws of physics, this approach will remain invulnerable to increasing computational power, new attack algorithms, or quantum computers."

Tuesday's announcement marks the second time Defence has supported QLabs' work, having invested AU$1.1 million in the company back in 2012.

The QLabs funding is the largest of the eight investments totalling AU$12.3 million made by the Defence Innovation Hub, which launched in December in a bid to facilitate and nurture the development of innovative technology and ideas in support of Australia's Defence capability.

Westpac bank upped its stake in QLabs by 5 percent in January after injecting an undisclosed amount of funding. It now claims 16 percent ownership of the Canberra-based company.

QLabs has also caught the attention of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who called out the company as one of the country's best up-and-coming organisations at the SINET61 conference in Sydney last year. Turnbull said QLabs is an example of Australian innovation that the whole country should be proud of.

QLabs was formed in 2008 as a spin-off out of the physics department at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, although QLabs' product suite was developed independent of ANU.

At the time, the company was looking at commercialising some technology, research, and experimental work that came out of the physics department in the field of quantum cryptography or quantum key distribution.

In addition to its ties with ANU, QLabs has a linkage grant with the University of Newcastle and a partnership with the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and its Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications Technology (CQC2T).

The CQC2T currently houses a team of university researchers that are racing to build the world's first quantum computer in silicon.

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