Quantum Key Distribution: Boon or Bust?


Security professionals recognize that ongoing advancements in quantum computing (along with Shor’s algorithm for quickly factoring large prime numbers) threaten the security of modern public key cryptography techniques such as RSA (Monz, et al., 2015). Thus, new post-quantum security solutions need to be given serious consideration as indicated by the National Security Agency’s recent announcement specifying “a transition to quantum resistant algorithms” for their cryptographic Suite B algorithms (NSA, 2015). While this transition will occur slowly over time, organizations with significant data protection requirements such as the US Government (i.e., 25 years of data protection) must start thinking about post-quantum crypto solutions now.

While unbreakable one-time pad encryption solutions enabled by QKD provide the ultimate protection available (they are proven secure against advances in quantum computing), they do not fit well into the established communications infrastructure. Conversely, quantum resistant algorithms (encryption techniques which are shown to not be easily broken by quantum computers) have the benefit of fitting nicely into the existing infrastructure (Bernstein, 2009).

With an eye towards QCrypt 2016, hosted by the US based Joint Center for Quantum Information and Computer Science, perhaps the QKD community will begin to adopt a wider perspective on the field of quantum cryptography. For example, the US’s premier quantum center seeks to more broadly advance the state of the art in quantum algorithms, quantum communication, and quantum computing instead of merely focusing on QKD (University of Maryland, 2016). Moreover, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently stood up a multi-year project to explore quantum resistant algorithms (2016) and a new international conference series on post-quantum cryptography is quickly gaining attention (2016). Perhaps, these events are evidences that a change is occurring in the QKD community, an evolution towards more viable cryptographic solutions.

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