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It’s time to make networks quantum-safe

Long exposure traffic line at night

In April, I went to Paris to attend MPLS SD&AI Net World 2024, better known as the MPLS Congress. I always look forward to this premier event because it brings together like-minded IP network builders from around the world to discuss the best ways to scale, secure and grow their networks.

Every year there is movement on the IP networking standards and it’s good to see how and where the evolution of IP is going to take us, especially in the areas of Segment Routing and Ethernet VPNs (EVPNs). This year, though, there was a lot of industry buzz around the word “quantum,” driven by an adjacent conference dedicated to the new field of quantum-safe networking, ironically called Quantum Networks.

This was a new topic for a lot of MPLS Congress attendees, including me. I’m sure many of us have heard about quantum computing being the next evolutionary step in computing. Quantum computers are currently in their infancy but they are evolving rapidly. So why is there so much buzz about quantum computing at a network event?

The main reason is “Q-Day,” which is the day at some point in the future when a cryptographically relevant quantum computer (CRQC) will be available. In lay terms, a CRQC is a computer with enough power to compromise the encryption we use to protect today’s IT applications and a large proportion of IP network traffic.

CRQCs may not exist today, but their arrival is inevitable. The excitement around protecting the IP network from CRQCs today is caused by concerns about a very specialized security threat called a harvest now, decrypt later (HNDL) attack. For this type of attack, a threat actor could harvest encrypted data today and simply hold onto it until they can decrypt it with a CRQC in the near future.

With our continued digital transformation and global economies relying on trusted and secure IP networks, it’s important for our industry to get out in front of this threat. We need to invest in technology that will protect everyone from threat actors that want to use the power of quantum computing for nefarious purposes.

This means all industries and service providers that operate networks need to start the journey to quantum-safe networking now. The need is urgent because quantum computing is projected to render most current mathematics-based cryptography schemes obsolete, thereby threatening the integrity of digital infrastructures and economies .

Threat actors could cripple critical infrastructures by using quantum computing to attack the networks that support them. Quantum threats could impact power and water supplies, public transportation systems, telecommunications, public safety communications, defense IT infrastructure, financial market data and systems, healthcare research, hospital networks and more. The consequences would put lives and economies in jeopardy.

So, what is being developed to combat this threat?

Nokia is taking the lead in addressing this challenge at the IP and optical layers of the network with Quantum-Safe Networks. In short, it’s about the use of a cryptographic framework that will stand up even in the presence of powerful quantum computers and that can evolve with the quantum landscape.

Key ingredients of quantum-safe networks include:

  • Quantum-safe cryptographic keys

  • Key distribution

  • Network encryption.

Quantum-safe cryptographic keys should support the application of classical and quantum physics, as well as mathematical Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC) keys once they are available. These keys need to be securely distributed—a range of potential distribution options were discussed at the event––and matched with the appropriate quantum-safe network encryption.

The conversations at the show, both in the presentation sessions and in the breakouts, really opened my mind to how important it is for our industry to move fast and work together to get these quantum-safe capabilities into the network as soon as possible. Q-Day is approaching, and while there is ongoing debate in the industry around its arrival, it could move forward at any time.

My big takeaway from this year’s MPLS Congress is to not ignore the inevitable. Q-Day will come, so let’s use the time we must ensure that all our national and international IP networks are on a path to becoming quantum-safe today.

For more information, please visit our Quantum-safe Networks webpage.

Paresh Khatri

About Paresh Khatri

Paresh Khatri is the CTO and Chief Architect for the IP Networks Business Division for Nokia Corporation in APAC.  In this role, Paresh is responsible for formulating platform and architecture strategies to meet the varied demands of operators in the Asia-Pacific region.  He has been responsible for architectural design for the largest IP transformation projects in the region and is now working closely with service providers as they address the growing demand for scale and new services that will be enabled by the evolution to 5G/6G, AI workloads and the metaverse.

Paresh’s areas of expertise include the entire range of IP/MPLS technologies and applications, from the network core to the access network. His current areas of interest include 5G transport, coherent routing, network slicing, segment routing and other SDN technologies.

Paresh has more than 27 years of experience with both service providers and vendors in building carrier-grade IP/MPLS networks and has been with Nokia for the last 22 years.

Paresh is a regular speaker at industry conferences in the APAC region and also actively participates in a number of telecommunications industry standards bodies.

Paresh holds a Bachelors of Electronic Systems Engineering (First Class Honours) and a Bachelor of Information Technology from the Queensland University of Technology.

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