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Intelligence agencies prepare for post quantum world when current public key cryptology will be easily broken by quantum Computers

Modern cryptography being used extensively for securing our internet payments, banking transactions, emails and even phone conversations use cryptographic algorithms based on public-key encryption, which is considered to be secure against attacks from modern computers.


The development of quantum computers once seen as a remote theoretical possibility is now advancing rapidly and expected to enter mainstream within a decade. “Quantum computing could be potentially transformative, enabling us to solve problems that are impossible or impractical to solve today,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, in a statement. “While quantum computers have traditionally been explored for cryptography, one area we find very compelling is the potential for practical quantum systems to solve problems in physics and quantum chemistry that are unsolvable today. This could have enormous potential in materials or drug design, opening up a new realm of applications.”


By harnessing quantum super-positioning to represent multiple states simultaneously, quantum-based computers promise exponential leaps in performance over today’s traditional computers. Quantum algorithms can break current security by reverse computing private keys faster than a conventional computer.


In 1994, an American mathematician named Peter Shor discovered a way to crack the codes that banks, e-commerce platforms and intelligence agencies use to secure their digital information. His technique, dubbed Shor’s algorithm, drastically shortened the time it took to find the prime numbers that underlie public-key cryptography, making codes that typically take thousands of years to break solvable in a matter of months.


In 2015, the NSA announced it would begin exploring encryption schemes that could withstand an assault by a quantum computer, and in 2016 the National Institute of Standards and Technology kicked off a competition to develop such “quantum-resistant” algorithms. NIST received nearly 70 submissions to the competition, and after more than a year of testing and analysis, researchers in January announced 26 algorithms would advance to the second round. The agency expects to select about four to six “winning” algorithms and publish guidelines for using them some time in 2022, Moody told Nextgov.


Intelligence agencies are also giving thrust on development of quantum computer.


IARPA Award to IBM for Logical Qubits (LogiQ)

IBM announced earlier that the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program has notified IBM that it will award its scientists a major multi-year research grant to advance the building blocks for a universal quantum computer.


Governments could use them to crack even the strongest current forms of digital encryption, or create new forms that are unbreakable. This is likely one reason why IARPA is interested in quantum computing. The agency has been working with other companies, like D-Wave, to develop these machines.


The award is funded under the Logical Qubits (LogiQ) program of IARPA led by Dr. David Moehring. The LogiQ Program seeks to overcome the limitations of current quantum systems by building a logical qubit from a number of imperfect physical qubits.


At the IEEE Industry Summit on the Future of Computing in Washington D.C. in Oct 2017, IBM announced the development of a quantum computer capable of handling 50 qubits (quantum bits) so far the largest and most powerful quantum computer ever built.


Under the LogiQ program, IBM’s research team will continue to pursue the leading approach for building a universal quantum computer by using superconducting qubits. By encoding the superconducting qubits into a logical qubit, one should then be able to perform true quantum computation. These logical qubit designs will be foundational to future, more complex quantum computing systems.


The LogiQ Program seeks to overcome the limitations of current multi-qubit systems by building a logical qubit from a number of imperfect physical qubits. LogiQ envisions that program success will require a multi-disciplinary approach that increases the fidelity of quantum gates, state preparation, and qubit readout; improves classical control; implements active quantum feedback; has the ability to reset and reuse qubits; and performs further system improvements.


Additionally, LogiQ seeks a modular architecture design of two coupled logical qubits that creates a flexible and feasible path to larger systems. Modular designs facilitate the incorporation of next-generation advances with minimal constraints, while maintaining or improving performance.


The Prime Contractors are Delft University of Technology; Duke University; IBM – T.J. Watson Research Center; and University of Innsbruck.

Physicist Awarded IBM Grant to Develop Quantum Computing

Britton Plourde, associate professor of physics, is using a three-year, $900,000 grant from IBM to conduct research for the LogiQ Program. LogiQ is part of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), based in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.


“Qubits are quantum mechanical objects, such as atoms, photons or artificial atoms, that are the building blocks of quantum computing,” says Plourde, who studies experimental condensed matter physics. “I’m part of a team of physicists, computer scientists and engineers working to construct a long-lived logical qubit from a group of imperfect physical qubits. This, hopefully, will pave the way for improved multi-qubit operations and more robust quantum processors.”


The grant award supports Plourde’s work on the IBM Superconducting Logically Encoded Extensible Qubit (SLEEQ) project. The purpose of SLEEQ is to implement quantum error correction techniques for the operation of the logical qubit. “The role of my research group in the project is to develop new types of superconducting qubits that are less sensitive to noise,” Plourde adds.


For the past two decades, scientists have been advancing quantum technology, in hopes of realizing new possibilities for information processing and communication. Quantum technology is of interest to the U.S. intelligence community because quantum machines can potentially solve certain problems that conventional computers cannot. 

Quantum systems have applications ranging from biology and chemistry to materials science and medicine.


Unlike classical computing, in which the basic unit of information (i.e., the bit) has a definite value of 1 or 0, a qubit can exist in two states at once, meaning it can represent 1 or 0 or both simultaneously. This is known as superposition. “By exploiting superposition,” Plourde says, “quantum computers process information in a fundamentally different way from conventional machines, creating the potential for dramatic speedups for certain problems.” Important to speedup is another property called entanglement, in which quantum objects are able to maintain instantaneous connections, even when separated by vast distances.


“When we exploit these properties, quantum systems could have the ability to decode encrypted information, churn through large networks of databases, or simulate complex quantum systems,” Plourde says. Numerous innovations over the past decade, however, have led to significant improvements in the performance of superconducting qubits.


“Getting to this point requires operating the qubits at temperatures near absolute zero and shielding the circuits from all possible sources of noise that can destroy the quantum state,” says Plourde, alluding to a process called decoherence. He says that, even with the latest techniques for shielding and cooling the qubits, decoherence still limits the lifetime of a state-of-the-art superconducting qubit to around a tenth of a millisecond. “In order to implement quantum algorithms in the presence of decoherence, we need to employ schemes for combining many physical qubits together to form a logical qubit. Such an object would be robust to quantum errors caused by the inevitable decoherence in the individual physical qubits.”


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