Hyderabad: In October 2019, Google announced that its 54-qubit processor Sycamore, a quantum computer, performed a complex calculation, that would have taken the world’s most powerful supercomputer 10,000 years to solve, in a mindboggling 200 seconds.
While this was a quantum leap for computing technology, this also meant that most of the encryption in place to protect data and communication, especially in critical government infrastructure, defence and nuclear facilities, utilities, banks as well as financial institutions, among others, was no longer safe as the quantum computer could crack these easily.
An Indian startup QNu Labs has found the key to this problem in quantum physics. “It’s like the classic chor-police situation. One solution was to use higher mathematical algorithms to create encryption but we decided to opt for quantum physics (or mechanics) instead to prepare the encryption keys so that they cannot be cracked even by a quantum computer,” explained Srinivasa Rao Aluri, co-founder & chairman, QNu Labs.
QNu Labs has developed a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) system called Armos comprising hardware (two black boxes) and software that generate random encrypted keys that can be sent from one end to another safely without the threat of hackers stealing them. Armos can even store keys and passwords in a secure vault.
The two black boxes on either end, for instance from a bank headquarter to a branch, are connected with the help of an optic fiber cable.
The encrypted quantum keys are generated by one box and transmitted with the help of photons to the box at the other end.
“We can generate quantum encryption keys on both sides with zero probability of anyone breaking or stealing them because if the key is intercepted it will get automatically dropped and will be of no use to the hacker. If the key reaches the other end, it means it was not intercepted and is secure,” explained Aluri.
While today the system is able to operate when the two boxes are located at a maximum distance of 100 km from each other, the startup is now working on enhancing this distance to 500 km.
“Today, Armos is the size of a small DVD player and in the future we want to shrink this to the size of a mobile phone and ultimately do it on a chip for which we are working on a project with Intel,” he said, adding that the startup is also working on a satellite -based solution so that distance will no longer be a problem.
Prof Indranil Chakrabarty from the Centre for Security, Theory & Algorithms, (CSTAR), IIIT Hyderabad, points out that `Quantum Secure Communications’ will revolutionise the field of security with direct impact on areas such as banking, finance and defence.
He said the security of communication depends on how secure your key is. “The security of the key in an existing communication system depends upon the mathematical complexity of the process of decoding the key. However, if the key is generated using the principle of quantum mechanics, this is no longer a mathematical problem and the laws of ‘nature’ will enforce security,” Chakrabarty added.
Quantum Computing significantly increases today’s computational power many times over. This will help us in obtaining significant advancement in the areas like cybersecurity, drug discovery, financial modelling, traffic optimization, weather forecasting and artificial Intelligence
—Prof Indranil Chakrabarty | centre for security, theory & algorithms, (cstar), iiit hyderabad
We are working on multiple solutions to make networks and systems quantum proof across sectors be it defence, nuclear establishments, railway networks, power plants, pharma companies, telecom networks, banks & financial institutions, healthcare
—Srinivasa Rao Aluri | co-founder & chairman, qnu labs
What is Quantum Cryptography?
The laws of quantum physics allow the photons or particles to be in a state of superposition, which means they represent 1s and 0s in multiple combinations at the same time. They are called qubits. While in classical cryptography, hackers use the public key to derive a private key to decrypt data, in quantum cryptography the keys are symmetrical and randomly generated in real time, making them un-hackable
What is Quantum Key Distribution?
QKD is a way to secure the network from code-breaking even by a quantum computer. The encrypted data is sent as classical bits but the keys are generated in real time and sent in quantum state so that anyone trying to hack it will find nothing. It’s like two people thinking about the same thing at the same time.
QKD in defence
In December 2020, DRDO conducted trials of QKD technology between two labs, DRDL and RCI, to showcase secure communication. The Quantum-based security solution against eavesdropping was validated at a 12-km range and 10dB (decibels) attenuation over fibre optic channel.