Quantum Technologies move from research into our everyday life
There is hardly a big announcement from governments these days that doesn’t include Quantum Technology in some way or form. The newly formed AUKUS alliance lists quantum technologies in the same breath as Artificial Intelligence and cyber capabilities1. Earlier this month, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) held a summit on Quantum Industry with more than 18 industry participants2.
Even though quantum computing attracts much of the attention, there is a notable shift towards quantum technologies that can be leveraged today. And this makes a lot of sense as quantum computing —while incredibly powerful and beneficial —will still take quite some time to mature. The available quantum computers remain too small for real world applications and the research on even the right approach is rapidly evolving with many research papers being published.
One area that is already providing real-world benefits are quantum technologies outside of quantum computing. Examples of these are quantum random number generators (that are essential for cybersecurity and encryption) as well as quantum key distribution (secure private key exchange for communication).
China has been focusing on this area for quite some time3 and Chinese scientists have recently established the world's first integrated quantum communication network, combining over 700 optical fibres on the ground with two ground-to-satellite links, achieving quantum key distribution (QKD) over a total distance of 4,600 kilometres for users across the country.
But the biggest shift in bringing quantum technologies into our lives has been the integration of the various technologies into platforms that can be used by legacy systems immediately. How good is a fantastically secure QKD network if the endpoints can’t use it? Do I even need QKD if my IOT sensor just wants to send temperature readings securely to the control tower?
This is where quantum-enhanced cybersecurity comes into play. It all starts with a technology platform that uses industry standards (such as KMIP or PKCS#12) to integrate as much of the existing security infrastructure as possible. Now that much of the applications leverage this platform, one can leverage the best solution for the needs. An IOT sensor doesn’t need QKD, but you want to use a quantum-safe encryption algorithm to make it future-proof. At the same time, the backend integration of the control tower to the control hub is already communicating with a dedicated fibre connection, so the information-theoretic-security of QKD is perfect for this and can be easily deployed. QKD is information-theoretic-security meaning that the system and method used by QKD is proven to be unbreakable (with a mathematical proof). For sure that doesn’t mean that hackers don’t try to find a way to get around this to target auxiliary systems. One way to go about this is to target all the assumptions in the security system and one assumption is that the random numbers being used are uniformly random. While this is difficult to be produced by a computer that simply runs pre-defined programs, it is “easy” to be produced by quantum effects that are proven to happen completely randomly in nature. One such effect is that of quantum tunnelling4. Companies have been providing random number generators based on quantum tunnelling for years with speeds of up to 1Gbit/sec.
So, while there is still substantial research in some areas (such as quantum computing) and practical applications may be years off, you may already be using security solutions based on quantum technologies right now as many companies are already using these technologies on an infrastructure level today.
Andreas Baumhof, VP Quantum Technologies, QuintessenceLabs
Quantum Commercialisation Week
Click here to read more insights published during techUK's Quantum Commercialisation Week
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies, including Quantum Computing, High-Performance Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies, across the UK. As part of this, she works alongside techUK members and UK Government to champion long-term and sustainable innovation policy that will ensure the UK is a pioneer in science and technology
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.