Quantum Computing and How Cryptography Will Have to Change

By: Laurence Weir
Technology Lead, Biomedical Engineer

23rd January 2020

5 minute read

Home » Security

The creation of quantum computers is one of the ethereal technological challenges of the modern age, along with the likes of nuclear fusion reactors, and low-cost space travel. Algorithms designed for quantum computers will offer results which have a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. Problems like protein folding (used to find new Cancer drugs), or SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), will be solved many orders of magnitude faster than is currently possible with supercomputers. However, this also means most of our secure data is at risk.

Back to basics; the state of a “bit” in computing, is binary;

1 OR 0. HIGH OR LOW. VOLTAGE OR GROUND.

With the inception of quantum computing and the quantum bit, or “qubit”, this is going to change. Qubits are not just 1 or 0. They are 1 and 0 and everything in between. Those without a background in quantum mechanics, feel free to just go with the flow.

Conventional binary computers offer amazing abilities to solve linear logical problems. Many of these problems can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW INPUTS A,B,C…, AND HOW THEY INTERACT TO PRODUCE OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…”

These algorithms almost instantaneously change their outputs to changes in inputs. Problems such as:

“HOW MUCH MONEY DO I HAVE TO SPEND THIS WEEK?”

“WHEN IS MY TRAIN GOING TO ARRIVE?”

“WHAT IS THE WEATHER GOING TO BE LIKE TOMORROW?”

However, with qubits, in a quantum computer, as well as being able to solve do everything the conventional computer can, new problems will be solvable. These can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…, BUT HOW DID WE GET TO THIS?”

These problems are solved right now using either brute force algorithms, or rely on being able to identify patterns. Here are some examples:

“HOW TO WIN THIS CHESS GAME?”

“HOW DO I FOLD THESE PROTEINS TO CREATE A CURE FOR CANCER?”

“HOW DO I BREAK THIS PASSWORD?”

For instance, a password in binary is just a fixed series of 1’s and 0’s. A traditional computer can crack this by trying every combination of 1’s and 0’s, perhaps also intelligently predicting what series are most likely. However, with limited processing power, and a long enough password, solving this takes longer than is reasonable (usually the age of the universe). However, with enough qubits, a quantum computer is able to solve it. The qubits instantly try every combination of 1’s and 0’s, and the password is cracked.

The modern cryptographic method involves multiples of two primes to create very long numbers. Certain numbers only have two factors, both of which are prime numbers. For instance, the number 889. To find them might take you several minutes by hand. A conventional computer would be able to brute force it by checking a list of primes. However, if the number was 2000 digits long, this search algorithm would take too long. Again the quantum computer is able to solve it by just using two groups of qubits representing the two primes.

BTW…THE PRIME FACTORS OF 889 ARE 7 AND 127.

When this quantum computer potentially emerges over the next decade, it will be able to break every encryption method and protected piece of information. It will also be able to impose its own encryption on the data which can never be broken by conventional computing. The owner of the quantum computer will be in sole possession of most of the world’s protected data.

Before that happens, the designers of quantum computers will have to overcome immense technical hurdles. A single qubit right now costs around $10k to create, compared to around $0.0000000001 for a conventional computer bit. These $10k qubits are still not of good enough quality for large scale computers. This creates compounded problems to develop error corrective algorithms to overcome this poor quality. At the moment, controlling multiple qubits simultaneously is very difficult. Lastly, each qubit requires multiple control wires.

Regardless of these challenges, we are now looking at a post-quantum era to which we should be designing our cryptography. In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) put out a call to propose algorithms that would not be able to be solvable by a quantum computer. They are analysing 26 leading candidate before implementation in 2024. IBM has selected one, in particular, called CRYSTALS (Cryptographic Suite for Algebraic Lattices). This method generates public and private keys based on “lattice algorithms”. An example of which is; A set of numbers is produced, as well as the sum of a subset of those numbers. Determining the different combinations of numbers which made up the final answer is currently unsolvable by quantum computing due to the multidimensional nature of the problem.

Therefore, quantum computing will solve many of life’s problems but will make some of our current cryptographic methods redundant. We will have to start soon moving to new methods to keep our future data safe.

If you want to know more about Quantum Computing, please get in contact with us below.

The creation of quantum computers is one of the ethereal technological challenges of the modern age, along with the likes of nuclear fusion reactors, and low-cost space travel. Algorithms designed for quantum computers will offer results which have a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives. Problems like protein folding (used to find new Cancer drugs), or SETI (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence), will be solved many orders of magnitude faster than is currently possible with supercomputers. However, this also means most of our secure data is at risk.

Back to basics; the state of a “bit” in computing, is binary;

1 OR 0. HIGH OR LOW. VOLTAGE OR GROUND.

With the inception of quantum computing and the quantum bit, or “qubit”, this is going to change. Qubits are not just 1 or 0. They are 1 and 0 and everything in between. Those without a background in quantum mechanics, feel free to just go with the flow.

Conventional binary computers offer amazing abilities to solve linear logical problems. Many of these problems can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW INPUTS A,B,C…, AND HOW THEY INTERACT TO PRODUCE OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…”

These algorithms almost instantaneously change their outputs to changes in inputs. Problems such as:

“HOW MUCH MONEY DO I HAVE TO SPEND THIS WEEK?”

“WHEN IS MY TRAIN GOING TO ARRIVE?”

“WHAT IS THE WEATHER GOING TO BE LIKE TOMORROW?”

However, with qubits, in a quantum computer, as well as being able to solve do everything the conventional computer can, new problems will be solvable. These can be simplified as:

“WE KNOW OUTPUTS X,Y,Z…, BUT HOW DID WE GET TO THIS?”

These problems are solved right now using either brute force algorithms, or rely on being able to identify patterns. Here are some examples:

“HOW TO WIN THIS CHESS GAME?”

“HOW DO I FOLD THESE PROTEINS TO CREATE A CURE FOR CANCER?”

“HOW DO I BREAK THIS PASSWORD?”

For instance, a password in binary is just a fixed series of 1’s and 0’s. A traditional computer can crack this by trying every combination of 1’s and 0’s, perhaps also intelligently predicting what series are most likely. However, with limited processing power, and a long enough password, solving this takes longer than is reasonable (usually the age of the universe). However, with enough qubits, a quantum computer is able to solve it. The qubits instantly try every combination of 1’s and 0’s, and the password is cracked.

The modern cryptographic method involves multiples of two primes to create very long numbers. Certain numbers only have two factors, both of which are prime numbers. For instance, the number 889. To find them might take you several minutes by hand. A conventional computer would be able to brute force it by checking a list of primes. However, if the number was 2000 digits long, this search algorithm would take too long. Again the quantum computer is able to solve it by just using two groups of qubits representing the two primes.

BTW…THE PRIME FACTORS OF 889 ARE 7 AND 127.

When this quantum computer potentially emerges over the next decade, it will be able to break every encryption method and protected piece of information. It will also be able to impose its own encryption on the data which can never be broken by conventional computing. The owner of the quantum computer will be in sole possession of most of the world’s protected data.

Before that happens, the designers of quantum computers will have to overcome immense technical hurdles. A single qubit right now costs around $10k to create, compared to around $0.0000000001 for a conventional computer bit. These $10k qubits are still not of good enough quality for large scale computers. This creates compounded problems to develop error corrective algorithms to overcome this poor quality. At the moment, controlling multiple qubits simultaneously is very difficult. Lastly, each qubit requires multiple control wires.

Regardless of these challenges, we are now looking at a post-quantum era to which we should be designing our cryptography. In 2016, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) put out a call to propose algorithms that would not be able to be solvable by a quantum computer. They are analysing 26 leading candidate before implementation in 2024. IBM has selected one, in particular, called CRYSTALS (Cryptographic Suite for Algebraic Lattices). This method generates public and private keys based on “lattice algorithms”. An example of which is; A set of numbers is produced, as well as the sum of a subset of those numbers. Determining the different combinations of numbers which made up the final answer is currently unsolvable by quantum computing due to the multidimensional nature of the problem.

Therefore, quantum computing will solve many of life’s problems but will make some of our current cryptographic methods redundant. We will have to start soon moving to new methods to keep our future data safe.

If you would like to learn more about quantum computing please get in contact below.

6 November 2019: Plextek-DTS (Defence Technology Solutions) has been awarded two contracts under the £2 million Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) competition to develop new capabilities to detect, disrupt, and defeat the hostile and malicious use of drones.

Both contracts build on Plextek’s world-leading research and experience in Low Size Weight and Power (SWaP) radio systems. The first project focuses on the development of innovative signal detection and jamming capability to detect and defeat hostile drones while ensuring that non-hostile systems in the vicinity are not affected. For the second project, Plextek-DTS will develop a miniature radar that can be integrated into airborne drones in order to detect, track and accurately target hostile drones.

The competition run by DASA – the MOD’s innovation hub – on behalf of Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), is the latest stage in Dstl’s ongoing research programme into countering unmanned air systems (UAS). The competition is also supported by the Department for Transport and NATO to counter the rapidly evolving threats from UAS.

“Drones are increasingly being used to conduct hostile activities due to their relatively low cost, ease of deployment and lack of technologies to adequately counter them,” said Dr. Aled Catherall, Head of Technology, at Plextek-DTS. “The threat posed is advancing rapidly and drones are being used effectively against military targets and to disrupt critical national infrastructure. New technologies to counter the drone threat is therefore required and the two projects awarded to Plextek-DTS will help to provide a significant step towards achieving an effective counter-drone capability.”

For more information about the DASA competition, please visit: https://bit.ly/34BLjZQ

For more information from Plextek-DTS, call Edwina Mullins on +44 (0) 1799 533200 or email: press@plextek.com or visit: www.plextek-dts.com

Railway Revolution

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill
CEO

5th November 2019

3 minute read

Home » Security

If you view the railway network as still lodged in the Victorian era, you should think again. A revolution in rail travel is in progress. Ever-increasing road congestion and worsening global warming are pushing more traffic onto the rail network and will continue to do so. Rail travel is an inherently efficient method of moving both people and goods in an environmentally sustainable manner.

We can build more routes, but the existing rail network needs to move more people and more goods every day. This means running more trains, more frequently and more sustainably.

But to push more trains onto the track, train spacing must be greatly reduced. This requires a revolution in train management, abolishing fixed track sections and creating new systems for detecting the precise location of trains, automated control across the network, highly sophisticated scheduling and more robust safety systems.

Building a sustainable network

Further improvements to sustainability will see the removal of diesel traction, replaced by further track electrification and battery or hydrogen fuel cell-powered trains. Rolling stock will also use advanced materials to reduce weight, regenerative braking to conserve power and more intelligent power control. Routing slow goods traffic in between passenger trains is difficult and inefficient and will be done at night when currently, routes are often closed for manual inspection.

Happily, manual inspection will become a thing of the past as track and rolling stock monitoring is performed by automated and robotic systems. Track, overheads and rolling stock will be fitted with extensive sensing for continuous monitoring and diagnostics. Further sensors built into track and overheads will monitor rolling stock while conversely, sensors built into rolling stock will monitor track and overheads, at full train operating speeds. Robotic trains and autonomous drones operating beyond-line-of-sight will conduct automated surveys. Sophisticated data exploitation techniques will process and examine all this data to look for trends in wear and defects, predicting potential failure before it happens and improving network up-time.

All about the passenger

All the above will benefit the passenger experience, through improved punctuality, better reliability and more frequent services. But this is only a start. Better management of passenger flows at busy stations will direct travellers to the most appropriate train carriage. Improved security screening techniques will keep people safe without impeding the flow, while accurate real-time passenger information will make travel decisions easier to make.

This revolution demands a strong culture of innovation to drive radical changes in train operating practice. It also requires the very best of current technology, including advanced sensing, ubiquitous communications, powerful but trustworthy data processing and enhanced autonomy.

If you need to be sure you are building the very best of current technology into your products and systems, do give us a call. We’d love to talk about how we can help you create the railway revolution.

If you view the railway network as still lodged in the Victorian era, you should think again. A revolution in rail travel is in progress. Ever-increasing road congestion and worsening global warming are pushing more traffic onto the rail network and will continue to do so. Rail travel is an inherently efficient method of moving both people and goods in an environmentally sustainable manner.

We can build more routes, but the existing rail network needs to move more people and more goods every day. This means running more trains, more frequently and more sustainably.

But to push more trains onto the track, train spacing must be greatly reduced. This requires a revolution in train management, abolishing fixed track sections and creating new systems for detecting the precise location of trains, automated control across the network, highly sophisticated scheduling and more robust safety systems.

Building a sustainable network

Further improvements to sustainability will see the removal of diesel traction, replaced by further track electrification and battery or hydrogen fuel cell-powered trains. Rolling stock will also use advanced materials to reduce weight, regenerative braking to conserve power and more intelligent power control. Routing slow goods traffic in between passenger trains is difficult and inefficient and will be done at night when currently, routes are often closed for manual inspection.

Happily, manual inspection will become a thing of the past as track and rolling stock monitoring is performed by automated and robotic systems. Track, overheads and rolling stock will be fitted with extensive sensing for continuous monitoring and diagnostics. Further sensors built into track and overheads will monitor rolling stock while conversely, sensors built into rolling stock will monitor track and overheads, at full train operating speeds. Robotic trains and autonomous drones operating beyond-line-of-sight will conduct automated surveys. Sophisticated data exploitation techniques will process and examine all this data to look for trends in wear and defects, predicting potential failure before it happens and improving network up-time.

All about the passenger

All the above will benefit the passenger experience, through improved punctuality, better reliability and more frequent services. But this is only a start. Better management of passenger flows at busy stations will direct travellers to the most appropriate train carriage. Improved security screening techniques will keep people safe without impeding the flow, while accurate real-time passenger information will make travel decisions easier to make.

This revolution demands a strong culture of innovation to drive radical changes in train operating practice. It also requires the very best of current technology, including advanced sensing, ubiquitous communications, powerful but trustworthy data processing and enhanced autonomy.

If you need to be sure you are building the very best of current technology into your products and systems, do give us a call. We’d love to talk about how we can help you create the railway revolution.

Could Radar Be a More Cost-Effective Security Screening Alternative to X-Rays?

By: Damien Clarke
Lead Consultant

10th October 2019

5 minute read

Home » Security

A key task in the security market is the detection of concealed threats, such as guns, knives and explosives. While explosives can be detected by their chemical constituents the other threats are defined by their shape. A threat detection system must, therefore, be able to produce an image of an object behind an opaque barrier.

X-rays are probably the most commonly known technology for achieving this and they are widely used for both security and medical applications. However, while they produce high-quality images, x-ray machines are not cheap and there are health concerns with their frequent use on or in the vicinity of people.

An alternative to x-rays often used at airports for full-body screening are microwave imaging systems. These allow the detection of concealed objects through clothes though the spatial resolution is relatively low and objects are often indistinguishable (hence the requirement for a manual search). The ability to detect and identify concealed items can, therefore, be improved by using a high-frequency mm-wave (60 GHz) system.

Plextek has investigated this approach through the use of a Texas Instruments IWR6843 60 – 64 GHz mm-wave radar which is a relatively inexpensive consumer component that could be customised to suit many applications. However, a single radar measurement only contains range information and not angle information. It is, therefore, necessary to collect multiple measurements of an object from different viewpoints to form an image. This is achieved through the use of a custom 2D translation stage that enables the radar to be automatically moved to any point in space relative to the target object. In this example, radar data was collected across a regular grid of 2D locations with millimetre spacing between measurements.

This large set of radar measurements can then be processed to form an image. This is achieved by analysing the small variations in the signal caused by the change in viewpoint when the object is measured from different positions. The set of range only measurements is then extended to include azimuth and elevation as well. In effect, this process produces a 3D cube of intensity values defining the radar reflectivity at each point in space. A slice through this cube at a range corresponding to the position of the box allows an image to be formed of an object that is behind an (optically) opaque surface.

In this case, a cardboard box containing a fake gun was used as the target object. Clearly, a visual inspection of this box would not reveal the contents, however, 60 GHz mm-waves can penetrate cardboard and therefore an image of the concealed object can be produced. In this case, the resulting image of the contents of the box clearly shows the shape of the concealed gun.

This example simulates the detection of a gun being sent through the post and automatic image analysis algorithms would presumably be capable of flagging this box for further inspection. This would remove the need for human involvement in the screening process for each parcel.

A more mature sensor system using this approach could be produced that did not require the manual scanning process but used an array of antenna instead. It would also be possible to produce similar custom systems that were optimised for different target sets and applications.

 

Acknowledgement

This work was performed by Ivan Saunders during his time as a Summer student at Plextek before completing his MPhys at the University of Exeter.

A key task in the security market is the detection of concealed threats, such as guns, knives and explosives. While explosives can be detected by their chemical constituents the other threats are defined by their shape. A threat detection system must, therefore, be able to produce an image of an object behind an opaque barrier.

X-rays are probably the most commonly known technology for achieving this and they are widely used for both security and medical applications. However, while they produce high-quality images, x-ray machines are not cheap and there are health concerns with their frequent use on or in the vicinity of people.

An alternative to x-rays often used at airports for full-body screening are microwave imaging systems. These allow the detection of concealed objects through clothes though the spatial resolution is relatively low and objects are often indistinguishable (hence the requirement for a manual search). The ability to detect and identify concealed items can, therefore, be improved by using a high-frequency mm-wave (60 GHz) system.

Plextek has investigated this approach through the use of a Texas Instruments IWR6843 60 – 64 GHz mm-wave radar which is a relatively inexpensive consumer component that could be customised to suit many applications. However, a single radar measurement only contains range information and not angle information. It is, therefore, necessary to collect multiple measurements of an object from different viewpoints to form an image. This is achieved through the use of a custom 2D translation stage that enables the radar to be automatically moved to any point in space relative to the target object. In this example, radar data was collected across a regular grid of 2D locations with millimetre spacing between measurements.

This large set of radar measurements can then be processed to form an image. This is achieved by analysing the small variations in the signal caused by the change in viewpoint when the object is measured from different positions. The set of range only measurements is then extended to include azimuth and elevation as well. In effect, this process produces a 3D cube of intensity values defining the radar reflectivity at each point in space. A slice through this cube at a range corresponding to the position of the box allows an image to be formed of an object that is behind an (optically) opaque surface.

In this case, a cardboard box containing a fake gun was used as the target object. Clearly, a visual inspection of this box would not reveal the contents, however, 60 GHz mm-waves can penetrate cardboard and therefore an image of the concealed object can be produced. In this case, the resulting image of the contents of the box clearly shows the shape of the concealed gun.

This example simulates the detection of a gun being sent through the post and automatic image analysis algorithms would presumably be capable of flagging this box for further inspection. This would remove the need for human involvement in the screening process for each parcel.

A more mature sensor system using this approach could be produced that did not require the manual scanning process but used an array of antenna instead. It would also be possible to produce similar custom systems that were optimised for different target sets and applications.

Acknowledgement

This work was performed by Ivan Saunders during his time as a Summer student at Plextek before completing his MPhys at the University of Exeter.

Nigel Whittle, Head of Medical & Healthcare, features in Critical Communications Today this week.

Drones have the potential to revolutionise public safety operations in areas such as fire and rescue. But there are regulatory and logistical barriers.

Drones are also being used in remote areas for the transfer of biological samples to hospitals, says Dr Nigel Whittle, head of medical and healthcare at Plextek. He points to an overseas company based in Indonesia. “They have a drone system to carry samples. They have navigation and control aspects and they need cameras and radars to help fly and avoid obstacles. We offer a sense-and-avoid radar system which can detect power lines. There are lots of these throughout the islands and you need to avoid them.”

Plextek’s sense-and-avoid millimetre-wave radar system operates at 60GHz. “It’s more for reconnaissance purposes – to fly around buildings, for example,” says Dr Whittle. “With a camera, you might not see obstacles, but with a millimetre-wave radar you might – and it works in bad weather too.”

To read the full article Click Here.