Here’s why quantum computing is a cat among the pigeons

M Ramesh Chennai | Updated on September 12, 2020 Published on September 12, 2020

Victims of the hacking include journalists, and human rights and Dalit activists

Much is made of the virtues of this new technology called ‘quantum computing’, which earned itself a special mention and money allocation in Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s budget speech of February.

Quantum computers, (fundamentally and not incrementally) different from conventional computers in the core of their working, will be far, far faster than the most complex (exoscale) conventional computers of today.

Good, right? Not quite.

The reason is, quantum computers can pose a grave threat to data security, which has implications not just in privacy and business, but also in defence and national security. Data security today is ensured by encrypting data—sort of jumbling everything up—which can be reversed only at the other end.

But even computers, while encrypting data, follow certain patterns – only these patterns are so complex that to copy them would take much more computing power than is available today. That is why today data is safe, if at all.

However, when quantum computers enter the fray (which is likely to be soon), they can decode the encryption, no matter how complex. And, there goes your data security.

Many experts have agonised over this problem in the last few years and now, solutions are coming up. How do you tackle a problem posed by quantum technology? By going back to the same quantum technology for a solution.

IIT-Madras-incubated, Bengaluru-based start-up QNu Labs is among the few companies that have developed a solution. “We are both a product and solutions company,” says Sunil Gupta, Co-founder & CEO of the company.

The company offers two products for encryption. The ‘quantum random number generator’ gives complete randomness in encryption keys. Basically, if encryption can be thought of assigning a number to every data point, if the assignment of numbers is not random enough and is based on a formula, a fast computer can potentially read the formula and guess the data. But the quantum random number generator produces truly random numbers, making the data secure.

Another product is the ‘quantum key distributor’, which exchanges cryptographic keys over networks. Essentially, these products make eavesdropping impossible.

Gupta says these two products enable the company to offer complete data encryption services to customers. These find application in transfer of data between data centers, securing access to data in the cloud, securing virtual private networks (VPN) and securing blockchain transactions. Businesses such as banks, healthcare providers, pharma companies and, importantly, Defence, are potential customers of QNu’s services, Gupta told Business Line.

For example, the company has provided some details of its service to the Defence PSU, Bharat Electronics Ltd. BEL used to courier encryption keys manually to every defence field units for safety, but this also meant that the keys could not be refreshed frequently enough.

QNu solved this problem by transporting the encryption keys in a secure way over public network in real time. It estimates potential saving of ₹100 crore to BEL.

Gupta says the market for quantum encryption is about to boom. One estimate puts it at $ 25 billion by 2025. The start-up is about to scale up and is in the market to raise funds. “About $ 5-7 million,” Gupta said.

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Published on September 12, 2020
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