Singapore researchers tapping quantum cryptography to enhance network encryption

ST Engineering and National University of Singapore are looking to tap quantum cryptography technology to build network encryption tools, so these will be ready to mitigate security risks that may emerge when quantum computing becomes mainstream.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

A team of engineers and researchers are working to tap quantum cryptography technology to enhance network encryption tools, so these can be ready to mitigate security risks when quantum computing becomes mainstream. ST Engineering and National University of Singapore (NUS) will use "measurement-device-independent" quantum key distribution (MDI QKD) technology in their efforts to to build cybersecurity defence against increasingly sophisticated threats.

Supported under National Research Foundation's Quantum Engineering Programme, the partnership aims to make advanced quantum cryptography accessible to the wider industry and drive the advancement of a technology that can lead to a new class of "quantum-resilient encryptors", the partners said in a joint statement Friday. 

They added these encryptors provided a highly scalable and cost-effective tool that could be deployed with minimal disruption to existing digital infrastructure. "This addresses the current limitations in the market [where] products are designed for point-to-point communication and are not scalable," they said. "This will also accommodate a larger number of users and benefit numerous applications, from financial services institutions, to government agencies, and hospitals."

Furthermore, existing security standards such as those used in ATMs and online transactions did not use quantum technology. This could result in added security risk when quantum computing technology became readily available. The partners said current encryption keys still could safeguard digital communication adequately, but noted there had been reports of breaches and alternative technologies should be explored. 

With QKD technology, the laws of quantum theory -- with the highly sensitive nature of quantum signals -- are tapped to distribute private keys over an insecure network. They can detect any attempts on eavesdropping, offering a secure form of encrypted communication, according to the Singapore organisations. 

"The secret key is transmitted using a sequence of carefully prepared single-photon quantum signals. If the secret key is intercepted, the quantum signals will be disturbed and keys will be rendered useless," they explained. "This enhances the security of digital communication as data cannot be intercepted or eavesdropped."

The partnership would explore the feasibility of further improving this through MDI-QKD technology, which also could operate under real-world conditions.

ST Engineering's president of cybersecurity systems group, Goh Eng Choon, said: "The threat landscape is evolving very rapidly and we must be prepared for challenges to come in the post-quantum computing era. While QKD technology can be used to secure digital communications, it can also be used to mitigate future quantum computers being used to exploit and maliciously target weak links and disrupt the global encryption ecosystem. 

"This research into quantum cryptography and the co-development of the industry's first solution will allow us to explore the potential of this technology, further strengthen our arsenal of advanced cybersecurity solutions, and gain a foothold in the QKD market," Goh said. 

NUS currently is working with nanoelectronics institute companies to jointly develop new chip-based quantum crypto devices, which can be applied to the new MDI-QKD technology and broader quantum cryptography technology due to their smaller device footprint and lower cost. 

NUS' assistant professor Charles Lim Ci Wen, who leads the joint project with ST Engineering, said: "As quantum computing becomes more prevalent worldwide, information security threats will also become more advanced. This collaboration, which leverages MDI-QKD, will lead to quantum-resilient encryptors that are not only secure against channel attacks, but also against detection side-channel attacks."

Lim added that the partnership would explore how chip-based quantum devices could be integrated into commercial network encryption equipment, hence, reducing the cost of QKD technology.


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