ETSI workshop on Quantum Safe Crypto

The fourth workshop on Quantum-Safe Cryptography was held from September 19th to September 21st in Toronto (CA). It was organised by ETSI (European Telecommunication Standardisation Institute) and the IQC (Institute for Quantum Computing).

The workshop comprised two tracks: the executive track on Monday, which provided a high level picture, followed by a technical track on Tuesday and Wednesday, which presented the details. It was extremely well attended, with about 200 attendees, double the numbers of last year. The aim of the workshop is to introduce solutions for cybersecurity to counter the impending threat of the quantum computer against current cryptographic systems.

The specificity of the workshop was that it brought together two communities, the computational cryptography people, who work on Quantum-Resistant Algorithms (QRAs), and the quantum cryptography people, who advocate physics-based solutions, mainly Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). The atmosphere was congenial, with some heated discussions during breaks and over lunch. The workshop included a worldwide tour of all the efforts towards quantum-safe security, with presenters from most representative countries.

Some of the take away points are as follows:

The whole industry now recognizes the need for quantum readiness. The threat of the quantum computer is real, and has to be addressed right now, to ensure security now and in the future. Companies like Amazon, Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft had representatives at the workshop, and are actively working on quantum safe solutions.

The representatives from almost all major standardization institutes worldwide agreed that new standards were needed for post quantum algorithms. They also agreed however that speed should not be confounded with haste, and that timing was of the essence for ensuring adequate decisions.

Therefore, the consensus was that hybrid solutions, adding quantum safe abilities to current systems, were the short term way to go. Cryptographic agility, which ensures that different cryptographic primitives can be used, is a must.

The confrontation between maths and physics, QRAs versus QKD is totally passé. Both have a role to play in the future of cybersecurity. One interesting aspect is for very long term security (e.g. safekeeping of health records), which can only be provided with a combination of both techniques.

Planning for next year is already underway. The 2017 Quantum-Safe Cryptography workshop, will be held around September 13th (TBC) in Cambridge (UK).

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