Quantinuum Creates Quantum-Powered Encryption That's Available Today

(Image credit: Quantinuum)

Quantinuum, a business unit of quantum computing company Honeywell, has productized what it calls the world's first quantum-powered encryption key generator. The technology, marketed as Quantum Origin, will provide clients with quantum-computing derived encryption algorithms with different levels of security capabilities. The company positions its product as a blanket solution for current cybersecurity problems and the nefarious "steal today, decrypt later" attacks that have become more and more likely as developments in quantum computing advance at a breakneck pace.

Quantinuum positions its quantum-computing-derived algorithms as the perfect, unassailable security solution for today's businesses. The company's claim is based on the sheer complexity of quantum computing systems; the output encryption algorithms would just take too long a time (let's say, billions of years) to be decrypted by even the most powerful Turing-based computers of today and tomorrow. Moreover, taking advantage of the property of entanglement, quantum computers can unlock levels of data complexity that are simply not achievable by the computing architecture we've seen evolve from room-sized to computers down to our Apollo-11 beating smartphones.

Considering how there are so few players in the quantum computing sphere (and all of them either institutional or business-focused), the company's rationale is that even the simplest quantum encryption will enable businesses to insulate themselves from decryption techniques available to today's hackers. Of course, other security faults could still compromise data — but not after it's been encrypted with Quantinuum's solution.

The company says it's even providing post-quantum security solutions - encryption techniques that would withstand attempts at decryption from rival quantum computing systems, the standards of which are currently being finalized by the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). And crucially, Quantinuum has claimed that Quantum Origin supports traditional algorithms, such as RSA or AES, as final packages for the quantum-enhanced encryption technique, ensuring scalability and interoperability with currently-deployed information security systems.

Quantinuum as a company seems to have just filled the first easily-identifiable market niche for quantum computing, and its Quantum Origin product comes at what could be the best possible time for institutional agencies and players, whether national or local. With quantum computing leaving the folds of the human imagination and actually manifesting in quantum computers that can run benchmarks and even have their own unit of productivity, all data that is siphoned off today would be vulnerable in the near future.

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), for one, has been worriedly preparing the standards that will keep national public sector cryptography alive in the near future. The question is simple: what if attackers were to steal information today to decrypt it later - when they finally get access to future quantum technology? But the answer to the question -— quantum-enabled encryption that cleanly moves this issue towards the future — wasn't available... until the launch of Quantinuum's product.

"We don't want to end up in a situation where we wake up one morning, and there's been a technological breakthrough, and then we have to do the work of three or four years within a few months—with all the additional risks associated with that," says Tim Maurer, advisor to the secretary of homeland security on cybersecurity and emerging technology. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) itself has issued a roadmap on the entire development of post-quantum cryptography.

Born from a merger between UK-based Cambridge Quantum and US-based Honeywell Quantum Solutions as early as November 30th (only a week ago), Quantinuum expects to be the first player in a market that it expects will hit $2 billion by 2027 - up from a total of a 0$-worth business before this announcement. With the current quantum computing market tracking an expected $175 billion in value, Honeywell and its 54% stake in Quantinuum looks poised to profit handsomely.

Press material images

Quantinuum's ion trap qubits are contained in this vacuum chamber.  (Image credit: Quantinuum)

Ilyas Khan, CEO of the new company and founder of Cambridge Quantum, said that "Quantinuum is now the largest and most advanced integrated quantum computing company in the world." With Honeywell serving as a business partner for Quantinuum and ensuring the continued development and deployment of the company's proprietary trapped-ion technology, revenues from one company will be building upon the other's. Interestingly, Quantinuum achieves its cryptographically-secure encryption algorithms with a relatively simple, 3-qubit system. The qubits do have to be "high quality," the design almost certainly involves other qubits employed in error correction mechanisms, but that a product can be developed and offered with such a relatively simple qubit setup leaves some questions as to why this hasn't been announced before.

Irrespective of the timing, the precipitous advancement of quantum computing and its impact on information security also has to be worrying to all tech companies and businesses. The potential impact of attackers breaching their cybersecurity and taking off with encrypted information is growing right alongside developments in quantum computing as well. Companies only usually have to care about unencrypted information getting exposed - now, they have to worry about any extraction of encrypted information as well.

Even if only a few gigabytes of data on a company's R&D capabilities were to be extracted and decrypted years into the future, it could have lasting impacts on their respective industries. Imagine a competitor getting access to gigabytes of now-unencrypted data - and building upon your deepest, most unique advancements to propel themselves ahead. Even outdated information on acquisitions, business deals, and even personnel email could provide an attacker with multiple venues through which to gain an undeserved advantage or to potentially wreak havoc with an entire business plan. And this is true across every sector of business.

The problems posed by quantum computing and this "deferred decryption" concept descend deeper; they actually hit us average humans - our data exists in these companies' servers. We might not make for the most attractive targets to be directly attacked – according to industry research company Statista, in 2018, around 14% of U.S. respondents to a survey stated that their online accounts had been hacked more than once. Compare that with the 3 billion users compromised in Yahoo's 2014 breach – the breadth of personal information that results from large-scale data breaches. Such as the ones experienced with the Cambridge-Analytica scandal or the much larger Facebook data breach, which exposed data on 409 million people.

But even as Quantinuum's first actual product - Quantum Origin - deals with systems and information security, the company is aware of the multiple new avenues of business that will be opened up with access to the incredible calculations available to the world's most powerful quantum computers. Tony Uttley, the former Honeywell executive who is now president and COO of Quantinuum, added that "The next few weeks and months are going to be extremely active for Quantinuum, as we increase the pace in deriving unique value from today's quantum computers especially in cyber security. However, in addition to cyber security, our products will include solutions for drug discovery and drug delivery, materials science, finance, natural language processing, as well as optimization, pattern recognition and supply chain and logistics management." Uttley further added in an interview that he expects Quantinuum to be a publicly traded company within 12 months of its creation.

The number of available markets for quantum is likely still not closed; much like it has happened with classical computing systems, advancements in the understanding and design complexity of these systems are likely to open up new avenues of exploration - and profit - in time. Moreover, with the world's first quantum-computing-based security product, Quantinuum seems poised to take first-mover status - something that could prove to be an advantage in the future.

Francisco Pires
Freelance News Writer

Francisco Pires is a freelance news writer for Tom's Hardware with a soft side for quantum computing.