• Wed. Nov 29th, 2023

    Critical Thought

    Critical thoughts on quantum technologies

    Exploring the Urgency of Quantum-Safe Encryption in Europe

    Europe has reached a critical juncture in cybersecurity as the quantum threat looms larger than ever before. The European Policy Commission’s recent report, “A Quantum Cybersecurity Agenda for Europe,” highlights the urgent need for Europe to prioritize the transition to quantum-safe encryption. While the report raises important questions, it is evident that Europe must take immediate action to protect its critical infrastructure and sensitive data.

    Quantum computers pose a significant risk to traditional encryption methods. These powerful machines have the potential to crack the encryption algorithms currently in use, exposing everything from national infrastructure to online banking. The emergence of a mature quantum computer, known as ‘Q-Day,’ is predicted to happen within a matter of years, rather than decades. However, the threat is already present today, with data vulnerable to “Harvest Now, Decrypt Later” attacks. This means that stolen data can be accessed once a quantum computer becomes functional, posing a real and immediate threat.

    The global race to develop and secure quantum computers is well underway, with China leading the pack. China has invested billions in quantum technologies, surpassing the combined investments of the United States and the European Union. Moreover, various countries have started implementing policies to mandate the migration to new encryption algorithms capable of withstanding attacks from quantum computers.

    While historically slower in the quantum arena, the United States has recently taken significant steps to address the quantum threat. The 2022 Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act, passed under the Biden administration, establishes a roadmap for all government bodies and agencies to follow. This roadmap specifically addresses the pressing issue of the “Harvest Now, Decrypt Later” threat and emphasizes the importance of post-quantum cryptography. By leading the development of new public-key encryption technologies, the US asserts itself as a global leader, setting the standard for other nations.

    Europe, on the other hand, finds itself facing challenges in implementing a comprehensive and unified response to the quantum threat. While Europe has a strong foundation in quantum science and boasts numerous graduates in related fields, a cohesive security strategy remains elusive. The European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (EuroQCI) was introduced in 2019 as a secure network for communications across Europe. However, the proposed Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network faces limitations, as it is primarily suited for specific military use cases. Building an entirely new infrastructure based on QKD would be costly and time-consuming, while the existing internet and telecoms infrastructure remains vulnerable.

    Europe’s interconnectedness and integrated economies make it crucial to safeguard against cyberattacks on all levels. Without a unified approach, the development of quantum security in Europe has become asymmetric. Germany and France have invested significantly more in quantum computing than the rest of Europe combined, creating a potential weak link in the overall security of the bloc.

    To address these issues, Europe must prioritize agility and interoperability in its cybersecurity strategy. Cryptographic agility involves being able to adapt to emerging threats by adopting and integrating new security measures. What may be considered secure today may become obsolete in the future. Additionally, ensuring interoperability between states is essential for secure and accessible communication.

    Europe can learn from the United States’ approach to quantum security. The passage of the Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act has prompted US public sector agencies to identify and replace outdated cryptography with new standard algorithms recommended by NIST. Europe now has the opportunity to follow suit and develop a comprehensive quantum migration plan, ensuring the security of its data and critical infrastructure.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    Q: What is quantum-safe encryption?
    A: Quantum-safe encryption refers to cryptographic methods that are resistant to attacks from quantum computers. It aims to provide security and protect sensitive data even in the face of powerful quantum computing capabilities.

    Q: What is the quantum threat?
    A: The quantum threat refers to the risk posed by quantum computers to traditional encryption algorithms. Quantum computers have the potential to break these algorithms, rendering current encryption methods obsolete and potentially exposing sensitive information.

    Q: What is the Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act?
    A: The Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act is a US legislative act that establishes a roadmap for government agencies to address the quantum threat. It prioritizes the adoption of post-quantum cryptography and aims to secure sensitive information from the “Harvest Now, Decrypt Later” attack scenario.

    Q: What is cryptographic agility?
    A: Cryptographic agility refers to the ability to adapt and respond to emerging threats by incorporating new encryption methods and security measures. It recognizes that encryption protocols that are considered secure today may become vulnerable in the future due to advancements in computing technology.

    – European Policy Commission’s report: [URL]
    – 2022 Quantum Computing Cybersecurity Preparedness Act: [URL]