India Needs Quantum-Secure Encryption To Prevent Future Attacks, Says CTO of QNu Labs

QNu Labs Quantum

Quantum computing is the new technology frontier on which nations and big tech companies are fighting. While innovation in the field of quantum technology can bring new advancements in various sectors, it poses a significant threat to digital security. 

According to experts, using quantum computing blackhat hackers and states sponsored entities can attack and decrypt web assets and applications. The threat has pushed companies to look towards quantum cryptography and quantum key distribution (QKD). Quantum safe encryption will play a big role in preventing major security breaches but also overcome application failures in AI and ML. Despite the importance of quantum cryptography, there are only a few companies in India which provide quantum-safe products. 

For this weekly interview, we reached out to Vivek Shenoy, Chief Technology Officer, QNu Labs- an organisation that is currently leading the quantum encryption market in India. The firm has deployed its solutions across sectors such as defence, telecom, banking, finance and so on. According to Vivek Shenoy, the objective of QNu Labs is to put India at the forefront of data security through a new paradigm in encrypting keys using quantum physics principles.

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Here are the excerpts from the interview:

What does the Quantum ecosystem in India look like at the moment?

The quantum ecosystem in India is in a nascent stage. There is a precise intent shown by the government when it comes to providing the necessary impetus towards the growth of Quantum Technologies in India. The allocation of ₹8,000 crores towards the development of technologies such as Quantum Cryptography and Quantum Communication announced during the Union Budget 2020 will help India make significant strides in this space. But, there are critical challenges which need to be addressed for India to be a front runner. There continues to be a significant gap when it comes to the skilled workforce that can operate in the quantum space for India to compete with the larger global players. We also need to massively improve our hardware capabilities, including procuring the necessary equipment, establishing fab labs and so on. 

What is the role of QNu labs when it comes to the development of quantum technologies for the Indian and global market?

QNu labs is a leading home-grown organisation that is at the vanguard of the quantum ecosystem in India. We are the enablers of the Quantum Technologies ecosystem in India, having developed ready to deploy solutions for two out of the nine applications identified under the National Mission on Quantum Technologies Applications. We are also the first company to represent Indian quantum technology ecosystem globally at the Quantum Alliance Initiative (QAI). We aim to put India at the forefront of data security and privacy powered through Quantum technology which is provided through a new paradigm in encrypting keys using Quantum physics principles centred on cybersecurity for the cloud and internet space.

What are the security ramifications across various tech companies with the advent of quantum, and how can India prepare for it and implement quantum-safe encryption?

The Quantum Computing breakthrough is poised to unlock new technological realms for the world. However, it also presents unfathomable security implications. Its incredibly fast processing capability also means that it can overpower any security infrastructure including military, nuclear commands, government bodies, and global financial institutions and so on. This makes it imperative for governments, industries and large organisations to ensure timely safeguards for the same. The Y2Q (Years to Quantum) moment, as it is most commonly known, is on the horizon and we need to act now. India must promote home-grown organisations to come up with new quantum technologies identified under the National Mission on Quantum Technologies. We also need to scale our hardware capabilities and strengthen the existing infrastructure to facilitate the development of new technologies.   

How do QNu Labs’ solutions work to strengthen the present-day cybersecurity infrastructure?

We’re the only Indian company to have made significant strides when it comes to quantum encryption, which means that our security solutions are the most advanced and safe when it comes to present-day cybersecurity infrastructure. Nothing in the present day and age can penetrate the robust security mechanism that we provide to our customers. This is why we have been able to deploy our solutions across sectors such as defence, telecom, banking, finance and so on.

Hackers are now carrying out attacks which are based on “Harvest Now, Decrypt Later”. In such attacks, the primary strategy adopted by hackers is to copy and store encrypted data and decrypt it at a later stage using quantum computers. As a result, forward security is very much necessary today, and the window to act is narrowing fast. QNu Labs intend to protect data at a national level and to have a global impact. We are not only ensuring a robust security mechanism for our clients but also ensuring the behavioural shift across industries so that they do not have to wait for the Y2Q moment to maintain proper safeguards. They can do so today by deploying our solutions that not only cater to the cybersecurity needs for today but also for the future.  

Can you elucidate on QNu Labs’ adoption of Quantum Key Distribution or QKD and product vision/roadmap?

Our Quantum Key Distribution System (QKD) called Armos was launched earlier this year in March and was made deployment-ready in India as well in international markets. The solution is directed at addressing the growing issues around data security and privacy, which have become a fundamental concern for businesses, governments and defence organisations across the globe. Our product roadmap involves the development of Quantum Hardware Security Modules and Post Quantum Cryptography solutions, which will become the basis for critical infrastructure in the future.

Please tell us about the successful field trial of the first quantum secure link in India running between two defence locations in North India.

This link was set up between two defence establishments, about 50 km apart. Two dark fibres were used, one for the quantum channel and one for clock synchronisation. Two C-DOT encryptors were used at each station that would retrieve the ultra-secure key that Armos would generate and encrypt all data flow between these two stations. This setup ran continuously and flawlessly for five days, with keys being refreshed every one minute between the routers.

Tell us about how your clients are using products like Quantum Key Distribution, Quantum Secure Platform and Entropy as a Service?

Our Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) solution called Armos provides impenetrable and unconditional data protection when data is at its most vulnerable–in motion. Using the laws of quantum physics, Armos secures the distribution of symmetric encryption keys. Armos functions by quantum encoding single photons of light which are sent through a dedicated fibre optical channel. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle ensures that any effort to tap into these quantum keys creates a perturbation in their quantum state which can be detected. Any product changes seen in the quantum state of the keys conveys Armos to make an alert and give an accurate real-time report regarding the location of the intrusion. 

Armos destroys any compromised keys and produces new ones, thus preventing attacks even before they begin. Only when the quantum encoded photons are checked at both the ends of the system are the keys generated. These quantum keys are then utilised to encrypt and decrypt data which is sent on classical channels. As the keys cannot be cloned, the data–even if cloned–remains unconditionally safe.

Our Quantum Security Platform, Hodos provides key management and application layer for our clients to plug and play. Hodos is built to integrate with pre-existing infrastructure and give firms a higher security posture instantly. Hodos is powered by Quantum Physics, making it the most future-proof technology in cybersecurity today. It needs minimal upgrades which lower the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and is also resistant to increases in computing power or more powerful algorithms. The solution offers advantages such as real-time intrusion detection, identifying the exact location of eavesdropping devices and actionable real-time reports customised to meet our customer’s requirement. Similarly, our Entropy-as-a-Service architecture is designed to provide a quantum entropy source to the connected world and IoT devices today. It provides secure access to high entropy according to clients needs, with entropy becoming a requirement in many industries, EaaS aids easy pay per entropy service. 

Please tell us about the research projects that you are undertaking. Any new innovations in pipeline and product roadmap for the future?

There are multiple areas that QNu Labs is working in. The most important area being QKD and its various offshoots – to increase distance, detect and take countermeasures against intrusion, free-space and satellite QKD. Beyond QKD, QNu is working on Hardware Security Modules, which are based on its QRNG technology. The QRNG technology is being enhanced to fit into servers as a PCIe card or a USB dongle.

In a separate research stream, QNu is working on Post Quantum Cryptography (PQC) that enables us to create a hybrid and quantum-secure key distribution network based on new and upcoming mathematics-based key exchange mechanisms. This ties in nicely with the QKD scheme, extending the reach of QKD and creating a true quantum-secure network. QNu research team works closely with leading academic institutions and researchers around the world, leveraging both their expertise and insight to improve both QKD and PQC.

Vishal Chawla
Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.

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