Singapore Aspires to be Quantum-Safe Network Pioneer for Government & Financial Services

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By Jake Saunders | 3Q 2024 | IN-7407

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) solutions will play an invaluable role in keeping e-commerce, authentication, government services, etc. safe and secure in a future world where quantum computers could potentially crack existing public key encryption. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and polarized light can play an invaluable role in QKD.

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"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman"...Unfortunately, He May Not Be


Keeping cryptographic secrets “secure” faces a looming precipice—Feynman-conceived quantum computers could potentially crack factorization-based public key encryption. Many of those encryption schemes have relied on the monumental challenges of brute-force cracking prime number-based factorization. It is estimated that it would take millions of years to crack RSA 256 with a non-quantum computer. Microsoft has estimated a quantum computer would need a minimum of 2,500 qubits to crack such an algorithm. In December 2023, IBM released a 1,000-qubit chipset prototype quantum computer. Time is counting down (aka Q-day).

The race to build a fully operational, quantum computer with sufficiently stable and interpretable qubits that could potentially crack e-commerce/personal authentication levels of public key infrastructure encryption is very much underway. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has finalized four “in principle” quantum computer hardened algorithms that are being put forward for commercial and government use. While the quantum computer hardened algorithms selected have undergone at least four rounds of testing, with a number of contenders discarded, it remains to be seen if any further limitations will come to light regarding the algorithms, either from limitations in the logical mathematical proofs, or from “fully developed” quantum computers that have the requisite qubit capacity and stability to attempt a comprehensive quantum computing decryption assessment.

Singapore's Vision for Safe & Secure Digital Society


Certainly, all parties that are concerned about the integrity and robustness of e-commerce, government communications, or privacy-assured communications should be taking steps to adopt Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC). Hopefully D-Day is still in the distant future, but the future has a nasty habit of becoming the present sooner than expected. Migrating fully to PQC-compliant systems should protect our encryption and e-commerce systems and could potentially be cheaper than a Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) architecture, but for some stakeholders, the opportunity cost of an encryption breach would be greater than the acquisition cost of a QKD architecture. Quantum-safe network architectures would counteract the threat of malicious eavesdropping and quantum computing decryption.

In June 2024, Toshiba Asia Pacific and SpeQtral, a Singapore-based quantum communications technology company, announced their latest QKD solutions. These solutions will contribute to the buildout of Singapore’s National Quantum-Safe Network Plus (NQSN+), the country’s first nationwide quantum-safe network. The network is designed to equip enterprises in Singapore with cutting-edge quantum-safe data communications.

SpeQtral in collaboration with SPTel2, a Singapore-based service provider, will be utilizing Toshiba’s fiber-based QKD and Quantum Key Management System (Q-KMS) solutions in the quantum-safe network rollout. The NQSN+, promoted and initiated by Singapore’s telecoms regulator, is currently in its first phase of implementation of the QKD-as-a-Service platform. The quantum key architecture is intended to support government, medical, financial, Research and Development (R&D), and manufacturing connectivity applications.

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Instead of relying on RSA-type factorization-based security, Toshiba and SpecQtral’s QKD security is based on the laws of physics. Data are transmitted using photonics and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256 symmetric keys (which are updated every minute). Given the realities of the Heisenberg Principle, any attempt to intercept these photons disrupts the encoding of their states and, therefore, reveals third-party interception. Having discovered the eavesdropping attempts, the current key can be discarded, and new keys can be withheld until the eavesdropping event has stopped. This eavesdropping detection should ensure that data transmissions can be QKD secure.

QKD Requires Collaboration


The true impact of quantum computers has yet to be fully assessed. They hold the promise to solve highly complex fundamental physics, cosmology, medical, and materials science analyses, among others. One example would be processing all the possible protein folding permutations to optimize vaccine, drug, and antibody development. In the mid-1990s, mathematician Peter Shor built on Feynman’s work to demonstrate the very real possibility that quantum computers could crack prime number-based factorization encryption schemes.

Toshiba’s joint venture with SpeQtral builds on collaborations with telcos such as the BT Group, KT, NTT3, Orange, and SoftBank Corp., as well as network encryption vendors such as Adtran, Adva Network Security, Ciena, PacketLight Networks, ST Engineering’s Cyber business, and Thales.

The market for QKD is nascent. Toshiba and Spectral are competing with other players such as KETS Quantum, IBM, ID Quantique, and a number of others. ABI Research is in the early stage of evaluating the market for QKD infrastructure, but competition and the range of solutions are expected to diversify as the quantum computing decryption precipice looms in the near distance. In addition to delivering QKD over fiber-optic, ABI Research sees QKD being delivered over satellite, which would enable the widespread delivery of QKD-enabled data not just point-to-point (fiber-optic based) but “everywhere.” SpeQtral not only stands out for its terrestrial-based fiber QKD applications, but also supports satellite QKD solutions that enable the commercialization of space-based QKD for long distance, intercontinental quantum-safe data transmissions.