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Quantum-safe networks

Quantum-safe networks

Making critical infrastructure quantum-safe

Quantum computing will create limitless innovation potential for enterprises, governments and society — but in the wrong hands, the power of quantum can create significant cyberthreats. The providers of the world’s critical infrastructure need to start preparing their networks now.

What is quantum computing?

Conventional computers are based on the concept that electrical signals can be in one of two states: on or off, which is traditionally expressed in ones and zeroes. These binary ones and zeros have powered everything from the earliest punch-card computers to today’s smart devices. But until now, there’s been a limit to how powerful computers can be.

Quantum computers are based on the principles of quantum mechanics, which allow for many states between on and off. They do not run on ones and zeroes, they run on electrons and photons. They are also not limited to one state at a time. This means they can perform tasks exponentially faster than binary computers and can also carry out multiple processes at once, further increasing their capacity and speed. Quantum computers can solve problems or break data encryptions in mere minutes that would have taken even the biggest conventional supercomputers thousands of years to compute.

What can critical industries do with quantum computing?

Quantum computing offers promising opportunities for all industries, for example: 
 

  • Power utilities can better predict weather forecasts, track demand patterns and compute how they affect energy demand so they can prepare in advance and avoid service impacts and brownouts
  • Defense operations can benefit from quantum sensing to improve reconnaissance, surveillance and deep-sea navigation
  • Public safety can be improved with more accurate advance notice of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricane tracks and wildfire conditions
  • Research and Education Networks (RENs) can make complex calculations that are impossible to do today and accelerate the next scientific breakthrough in climate study, biomedicine, clean energy and more
  • Transportation networks can predict and better forecast capacity demands, weather impacts on routes and more
  • In the Mining and natural resources industry, companies can compute data and environmental forecasts to quickly and accurately determine the best places to drill for key resources with the least environmental impact, reducing costly exploratory excavations

Why is quantum computing a cybersecurity concern?

Today’s encryption mechanisms have historically been sufficient to protect in-flight network data. Encryption uses highly complex mathematical techniques to “hide” the data, with decryption performed using a randomly generated numerical key that is sent alongside the data. Because it would take thousands of years to try every possible key combination, conventional computers can’t brute force their way past encryption within any sort of useful timeframe. That all changes with quantum computing, which enables malicious actors to brute force through even the toughest protocols within minutes.

But that will require a cryptographically relevant quantum computer (CRQC). A CRQC is a quantum computer powerful enough and equipped with the software necessary to break the ciphers used in encryption. While a CRQC does not exist just yet, it’s only a matter of time until one gets developed. That moment is called “Q-Day” — and most experts think it will arrive around 2030.

But the risks starts before Q-Day. Bad actors can “harvest” encrypted data today, even if they can’t do anything with it. They can simply hold onto it until they can decrypt it with a CRQC in the near future.

What industries could be impacted by a quantum-fueled cyber attack?

The potential for disaster when Q-Day comes is considerable. With standard encryption protocols rendered useless, all networks — across all industries — will become vulnerable to attack. Malicious actors could cripple critical networks like power and water, transportation, public safety, defense, finance, healthcare research and more with life-threatening and economy-impacting consequences.

Quantum attacks won’t target only those industries that are using quantum computers themselves. A CRQC poses a threat to any industry, as well as the businesses and individuals they serve.

Are modernized networks more vulnerable to quantum-fueled cyber attacks?

Critical industries are accelerating the digitalization of their operations and in turn are reaping the benefits of productivity, efficiency, resilience, agility, sustainability and safety. As organizations see convergence of OT and IT systems or move from manual to digital systems, adding complexity or distributed network functions, they also increase the potential attack surface for malicious actors.

So what do we do? Digitalization is how progress will happen across industries; we can’t — and won’t — ‘put the genie back into the bottle’. Fortunately, modernized networks not only bring the benefits of digital innovation — future-forward solutions also carry with them inherently robust defense-in-depth mechanisms that protect against the cybersecurity threats of today and tomorrow.

Enterprises and governments don’t have to wait. They can begin choosing quantum-safe networking technology as they architect their digital transformation and move their foundational networks to modernized technologies that adopt a defense-in-depth, quantum-safe network approach. 

The defense-in-depth approach to quantum security

What are quantum-safe networks

A quantum-safe network is also known as a quantum-resistant or post-quantum network. It is designed to be secure even against attacks from quantum computers. Quantum-safe networks use quantum-resistant cryptographic techniques that are secure even in the presence of powerful quantum computers.
 

  • Symmetric centralized key distribution (SCKD) is a way of sending decryption keys separately from encrypted data, making it harder for hackers to acquire both pieces required to access the data. This technology is available right now and has been in use for several years.
  • Quantum keys, transmitted through a quantum key distribution (QKD) network, are now in development. Using the physical properties of photons rather than math problems for encryption, it becomes possible to detect the presence of any third party trying to intercept the key — for an additional layer of security against quantum hacking.
  • Cryptographers are also working on post-quantum ciphers designed to withstand quantum attacks and still be interoperable with existing communications protocols and networks.

A quantum-safe ecosystem will include all three of these elements, as well as other technologies that have not even been thought of yet.

“A quantum-safe network provides robust defense-in-depth security mechanisms that protect critical communications network infrastructure end-to-end to maintain the confidentiality, integrity and availability of sensitive data against cybersecurity attacks from conventional computers today and the powerful quantum computers of tomorrow.”
Martin Charbonneau
Head of Emerging Markets, Optical Networking

What can I do to protect my network today from quantum threats?

Nokia currently offers the only multi-layer quantum-safe networking solution on the market that provides end-to-end protection for in-flight data. It utilizes both mathematical and physics-based protection and implements quantum-safe encryption through a unique, symmetric key management architecture at both the optical and the IP layer — protecting sensitive data from the optical core all the way to the IP edge. We further protect networks with software and hardware solutions that prevent, detect, analyze and mitigate network attacks with our NetGuard Cyberdome and Deepfield solutions. This defense-in-depth approach ensures all transmitted data is encrypted — and rendered useless if it falls into the wrong hands.

What will the future bring?

By the time Q-Day arrives, communications will be heavily influenced by 6G technology, which could significantly expand and augment human potential. But to get there, we will need to put far more trust in the network than we do today.

Discover quantum-safe networking solutions for your industry

Quantum-safe networks will be needed to help protect critical infrastructure across all industries. As a trusted partner for critical networks, Nokia’s fast, reliable and secure networking and connectivity solutions can help you boost your organization’s security, resilience, agility and efficiency.

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