Should corporates fear the development of quantum computing?

By Early Metrics Team - 22 July 2022

Quantum computing can be defined a “rapidly-emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for classical computers” (IBM). Thus, quantum computers are believed to be able to quickly solve problems that no classical computer could in any feasible amount of time. 

Thanks to recent technological advances in quantum computing, many experts have predicted significant progress in statistical analysis, medical research or simulations. Acknowledging this, corporates have been trying to develop or adopt quantum technology. In 2022, 29% of global corporates are in early or more advanced stages of adopting quantum computing technologies. Furthermore, there is an increasing number of startups emerging in this field as well as dedicated VC funds, such as Quantonation created in 2018.

However, quantum computing does not only represent technological progress. It also presents a major threat to organisations. Today, encryption is used to protect information and sensitive data when they are stored or shared. Current encryption solutions are based on mathematical formulas that would take today’s computers an extremely long time to decode. However, using quantum computers, the amount of time required could drop significantly – ranging from hours to a few days. The Cloud Security Alliance, the world’s leading organisation ensuring a secure cloud computing environment, estimates that a quantum computer will be able to break present-day cybersecurity infrastructures by April 14, 2030.

This explains why corporates are also massively investing in post-quantum cryptography like cryptographic algorithms to secure them against cyber-attacks from quantum computers. Indeed, the quantum cryptography global market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 26.04% until 2026. This significant growth largely comes from experts’ concerns regarding quantum computing. In 2021, almost half of surveyed global security professionals and executive leaders (47%) indicated being very concerned about security threats connected to technological advancements in quantum computing.

How the market is responding to the risks associated with quantum computing

To face the challenges presented by quantum computing and protect their data and infrastructures, governments are initiating various measures:

  • In the United States, lawmakers are trying to address this security threat. In April 2022, new legislation called the Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act was introduced. This law forces all federal administrations to implement quantum cryptographic standards within a year. 
  • Simultaneously, the European Union funded Open QKD through its Horizon 2020 programme. Open QKD is a consortium of 38 partners. Its goal is to raise awareness of the maturity of Quantum Key Distribution and its seamless integration into existing security infrastructure and networks for a wide range of use cases. Its list of partners includes corporates (e.g. Orange, T Mobile, and Thales), SMEs (e.g. Fragmentix, which quantum-safe storage solutions), in addition to research and technology organisations, academic organisations and national institutes.

Large corporates and tech giants, which are the most advanced in quantum computing, are also developing and adopting quantum security technology:

  • In July 2021, Amazon acquired Wickr, a secure messaging company known for its focus on corporate and military customers. It has integrated the technology into its Amazon Web Services portfolio. Amazon is currently trying to integrate quantum-proof encryption technology into its services.
  • Softbank announced a partnership with Sandbox AQ in March 2022 to implement post-quantum cryptography algorithms. By the end of 2022, Softbank will run quantum-resistant algorithms on various platforms and networks such as 5G, 4G and Wi-Fi to assess and verify its performance. In the future, Softbank is planning to apply post-quantum cryptography on its own commercial network so customers can benefit from quantum-resistant security. This collaboration on security will serve different use cases for Softbank, such as VPNs.
  • In 2021, Verizon started testing solutions to future-proof data from hackers. They successfully tested a quantum-safe VPN to establish encryption keys using post quantum cryptography. Keys were exchanged between two private 5G networks located in London and Virginia. The trial demonstrated that with QKD, encryption keys are continuously distributed in a provably secure manner.

How startups are tackling the issue

Startups will likely become a key resource for entities seeking help facing quantum security threats. Many already have the expertise required to tackle quantum computing and are developing promising solutions based on this knowledge. Indeed, startups operate in an environment that can be more conducive to rapid innovation and technological developments. This isn’t typically the case for corporates and governments. Hence, partnerships between these entities are becoming widespread. 

Let’s look at two illustrative examples of how startups are tackling specific challenges linked to quantum-safe encryption technologies:

  • Random number generator methods are common in cryptography. Current computers can only generate pseudo-random numbers, which constitutes a security breach for encryption. Quantum optics in quantum computers can help generate true randomness and thus, quantum-safe cryptography. In October 2021, UK startup Quantum Dice raised £2m in pre-seed funding to develop the world’s first compact and continuously self-certifying quantum random number generator (QRNG) for encryption and cybersecurity using integrated photonics. This funding comes from Elaia Partners, Future Planet Capital and Innovate UK.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) is also a major security concern. As most devices have smaller processors, limited memory and low power consumption, they face a bigger risk of encryption failures against quantum computers. CyberSwarm has been developing a cybersecurity solution specific to IoT since 2017. Its patented “brain-like” chip is safe against advanced types of cyberattacks, such as those from quantum computers. Myrmex, the first product developed by the startup, has enough computing power to sustain artificial intelligence at the edge as well (e.g. AI integrated into small hardware and devices like IoT). It is already integrated into car keys and industrial robots.

As the threat from quantum computing is becoming more concrete, the innovation ecosystem is accelerating its investments in this sector. In 2021, the top 10 startups in quantum computing cybersecurity raised a total amount of $113m. This figure is likely to continue increasing in the coming years. Overall, it’s clear both businesses and governments will need to continue their efforts preparing for the advent of quantum computing in order to secure sensitive data and protect themselves from advanced cyberattacks.

Written by Harold Stern, Analyst at Early Metrics.

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