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Quantum Cryptography: a new age in data security: Dr Andrew Shields highlights the importance of quantum cryptography in ensuring the future of data security.

90 per cent of all data created has been done so in the past two years, with proliferation now reaching the point that 2.5 quintillion bytes are generated every single day. Fuelled by greater mobility and emerging technologies, such as 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), this data explosion will only continue and accelerate. With much of this data containing sensitive information, the challenge for organisations is in ensuring its secure transmission.

IT decision-makers evidently recognise this challenge, with the latest research from Toshiba revealing that, for over half (52 per cent) of businesses in Europe, data security is a top three investment priority for the year ahead. Yet despite this, businesses often fall behind in keeping themselves up-to-date and ahead of cyber-security trends and developments.

Enter quantum cryptography, which, by harnessing the principles of quantum physics, has the ability to usher in a new age of secure online communication. But what exactly makes quantum cryptography so secure, how can it fill the gaps in online defences, and when will businesses be able to take advantage?

Quantum cryptography provides a secure method for generating and distributing secret keys between two parties via an optical network. The inherent unpredictability in the state of particles, such as electrons or photons, enables quantum cryptography to be used to generate the random numbers needed for cryptographic applications. By harnessing this, it is possible to share a secret digital key that can be used for encrypting or authenticating information via streams of encoded single photons, which are sent through an optical communication network.

The future of quantum cryptography

The emergence of quantum computers will ultimately render much of today's encryption unsafe. Currently, it is widely considered that public key encryption is an essential part of data security, but that's being challenged by new attack strategies. Today's security challenges and tomorrow's security fears are driving the adoption of reliable quantum cryptography solutions and services to enable better data security. As a result, the global quantum cryptography market is forecast to grow from $285.7 million in 2017 to $943.7 million by 2022, a CAGR of 27 per cent according to Research and Markets. Yet quantum cryptography's arrival is not as close to fruition nor as widely acknowledged within relevant fields. This doesn't detract from its essential and unparalleled value, as we move into the quantum age, so how far away from quantum cryptography are we, and what needs to be progressed to achieve this?

Quantum cryptography in practice

Despite not yet being commercially available, scientists are beginning to deploy the technology to demonstrate its benefits. Toshiba's Cambridge Research Laboratory recently published a paper explaining a breakthrough made using a protocol known as TwinField QKD, extending the range of QKD to more than 500 kilometres of standard telecom fibre. This opens up the potential for secure communication between cities such as London, Paris, Dublin, Manchester and Amsterdam. Further still, large collaborative ventures, such as the Innovate UK EQUIP project and the EU Commission's Horizon 2020 programme, are also working to make QKD a valuable and accessible tool for the enterprise.

Planning for the future

Quantum cryptography has great potential to become the key technology for protecting communication infrastructure from cyber-attacks, and putting businesses on the front foot when protecting operation-critical information. It won't be long before we reach the point where corporations and government agencies will be able to utilise the technology to greatly advance their capabilities and day-to-day operations. However, if quantum-resistant public-key cryptography is not ready by this point, we simply won't be able to maintain current levels of information security.

Quantum-resistant public-key cryptography is clearly vital then, in ensuring we're able to continue life as normal in the age of quantum computing, and to live and work as conveniently as we do now. Unlike other existing security solutions, quantum cryptography is secure from all future advances in mathematics and computing, even from the number crunching abilities of a quantum computer.

Dr Andrew Shields is assistant managing director at The Cambridge Research Laboratory of Toshiba Research Europe
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Author:Shields, Andrew
Publication:Scientific Computing World
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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