The quantum cryptography arms race has begun

Quantum computing may be taking its time to arrive, but when it does, encryption won't be the same again

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The race for the qubit
It is this coming quantum war -- quantum for good or evil? -- that has many of the world's top scientists working on quantum computing and encryption.

I recently talked with one of its warriors, Dr. Duncan Earl, founder and CTO of Qubitekk. After 20 years with Oak Ridge National Laboratories, he formed Qubitekk (formerly known as GridCOM Technologies) two years ago.

Qubitekk has two strategies. One is to make cheaper and more elegant quantum computing components and systems. To that end, anyone can buy the company's QES1 unit, which at 8 inches is capable of creating 10,000 entangled photons (the basic building blocks of quantum computing) per second per millwatt. This portable, plug-and-play device can put quantum particles into the hands of any user, whereas it once took very large machinery and a huge lab.

Dr. Earl was circumspect about his QES1 device: "I'm sure one day these devices will be much smaller and cheaper, and we will laugh about what we have now. But for now it's a big jump over what we used to have to work with."

"Cheaper" is a relative term. We won't be buying these for our kids for Christmas (yet). I didn't ask Dr. Earl about exact costs, but he indicated it was well within the price range for national laboratories, universities, and industrial companies.

Qubitekk's long-range plans involve making more plug-and-play quantum computer components and creating systems that allow wide-scale use over large geographic ranges. Most quantum networks are simple point-to-point networks, but Qubitekk has figured out how to create distributed spoke-and-wheel networks with many, many participating nodes. Dr. Earl discussed how his products could be applied to a power company with hundreds of thousands of wireless smart meters distributed over hundreds of miles.

I started my interview as my typical overly critical self, but I came away trusting Dr. Earl and his company's vision. I've talked to a lot of vendors over the years, mostly about selling their product, but Dr. Earl's honest explanations of the technology and its challenges was impressive. He excited me about what could be accomplished now. If I could afford it, I'd buy one or two of those QES1 units immediately and start playing with them.

I ended my conversation with Dr. Earl asking why he was building quantum computing components when most of the market he was trying to appeal to didn't have the need yet. After all, traditional crypto works perfectly well for most industries.

"I agree, traditional cryptography is fine for the moment," Dr. Earl responded. "But one day public key ciphers will fall, and when that day happens, we're going to need quantum cryptography to protect us. We are starting to look at the real problems and how to integrate and produce real solutions. Many industries are going to need quantum protection earlier than others, and when they do we want to be one of the solutions."

This story, "The quantum cryptography arms race has begun," was originally published at Keep up on the latest developments in network security and read more of Roger Grimes' Security Adviser blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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