In an increasingly data-driven world, quantum computers are seen by some as the solution to speeding up the number crunching for ever more complex sets of data. But there’s downsides to these powerful systems, too, centered around the integrity of transferring information. Of great concern is the potential for quantum computers to crack many forms of current encryption, an issue discussed in detail in Tuesday’s DesignCon keynote, “Post-Quantum Cryptography: The Next Decade of Cryptographic Hardware Design.”
Keynote session speaker Aydin Aysu, Assistant Professor and Head of the Hardware Cybersecurity Research Lab (HECTOR) at Electrical & Computer Engineering Department of North Carolina University, expressed great concern that quantum computers threaten existing cryptographic algorithms that are used everywhere, whether they be in financial and banking networks, national security systems, and other mission-critical systems. Ongoing advances in quantum computer will further exacerbate the issue of sensitive information being recorded and leading to more encrypted data being broken in the future.
The problem, Aysu stated, is being tackled by organizations such as NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), which since 2017 has been proposals to update cryptographic algorithms against quantum computing attacks. Large companies such as Microsoft and Google have also been active in trying to develop products that incorporate updated cryptographic algorithms
Some of the algorithms under development use number theoretic transform techniques which are similar to fast fourier transform techniques. Other algorithm types use precision Gaussian sampling.
Aysu emphasized that the cryptographic issue will not be completely resolved unless hardware companies also secure their products with updated algorithms. For instance, updated hardware is needed to handle lattice-based cryptography, a promising encryption technique that allows computing without knowing the secret key. The technique requires substantial hardware and software development to make it practical, Aysu noted.
The challenges are substantial, and will likely take years. In an earlier interview with Design News, Aysu noted that phasing in new cryptography without endangering the integrity of the existing cryptographic structure is an issue. “We will probably need to encrypt with both old and new algorithms as we transition,” Aysu stated.
Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected]