Quantum Computing and How Cryptography Will Have to Change

By: Laurence Weir
Technology Lead, Biomedical Engineer

23rd January 2020

5 minute read

Home » Smart Cities

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.

Tyre Pressure Monitoring

The Challenge

A market leader in tyre pressure monitoring was going through a transformation of their product from Analog to Digital. A product that worked in their labs and limited trials failed when put to test in the real environment.

The designers and developers were all baffled by the tricky engineering conundrum they were facing. With contracts already signed and customers waiting for the product, the client wanted to bring on board a consultant with a strong background in accelerometers and signal processing.

The Approach

Plextek consultants audited the design and conducted a thorough analysis of the data and algorithms. Professional tools and standards were used for analysing the data that helped identify the errors at different stages of the design.

Detailed interviews highlighted the disconnect between technical and business functions that resulted in the gradual introduction of errors at different stages rendering the product unusable for real environments.

A new build-measure-learn approach was introduced along with actionable metrics.

The Outcome

Design faults were identified and the product redesigned to required standards. Process improvements were put in place for long term gains. This resulted in saving major contracts and mitigated the potential financial loss for our client.

The new build-measure-learn approach reduced the development cycle from months to weeks and the actionable metrics helped streamline the right actions at the right time.

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Sensors for Automatic Passenger Counting

The Challenge

In order to highlight and target passenger safety and security on public transport, Plextek was tasked to develop non-camera, sensor-based technology, which was highly accurate, compact and unobtrusive and could be positioned in the doorway of buses, trains and trams.

The sensor needed to provide a resolution to identify multiple and simultaneous passenger movements, as well as present the client with a low material and manufacturing cost per unit.

The Approach

We first developed and optimised the necessary algorithms and produced a demonstration of how the customised technology would work. Downward-pointing rows of sensor modules above or next to the doors were installed to count the number of passengers as they entered.

A range of different ultrasonic and infrared modules were tested. The performance was then evaluated in real-world transport environments to see if there was any discrimination between the recording of people and objects.

The materials and manufacturing costs of the sensor assemblies were then value engineered and investigated to see if the project was viable.

The Outcome

Rigorous testing of the sensors proved that they had the potential to be able to overcome camera-based limitations and were able to distinguish individuals entering or leaving to very high accuracy. It was also found to be a feasible and effective solution on a variety of forms of transport, including trains, the tube, buses and also at airports.

We delivered two evaluation options; a single sensor and a dual-sensor system, for additional accuracy and resilience. Finally, we established mechanisms to reduce manufacturing costs and recommended the next pre-production steps.

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  • Armour Integrity Monitoring System (AIMS™)
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  • soldier communications
    Technology Assessment of Digital Systems
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  • electronics manufacturing
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  • Utility Telemetry, manhole fire, smart city
    Sensor Monitoring of Manhole Infrastructures
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  • Project: Cubert
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Personal Location Beacon

The Challenge

Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) are personal safety devices for land or sea, best attached to your lifejacket or rucksack for alerting emergency services. PLBs transmit coded data bursts conforming to C/S T.001 specification.

To maximize the chance of detection our client wanted to create a product capable of transmitting on 3 different frequencies. Plextek’s challenge was to design the RF front end to accommodate triband operation, which had never previously been developed.

The Approach

Plextek designed the electronics with a particular focus on that RF front end development. This included the design of power amplifiers, antenna and antenna matching circuits. During the development stage, particular focus was paid to the power consumption requirements.

The Outcome

First Personal Location Beacon to have achieved a tri-band capability with stringent limitations on size, weight, power and cost. Plextek played a key role in helping the client to manage the electronics development whilst keeping to constraints such as battery life, cost and physical dimensions.

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  • soldier communications
    Technology Assessment of Digital Systems
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    Sensor Monitoring of Manhole Infrastructures
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8th January 2020: Innovation and design consultancy Plextek has joined the ®Arm ™Pelion and ™Mbed Partner Ecosystem, a growing group of leading embedded and cloud companies, component manufacturers, system integrators and OEMs committed to driving innovation in IoT.

The Pelion and Mbed Partner Ecosystem is focused on supporting openness, standards, technology and services needed to accelerate the development and wider adoption of IoT systems based on the Arm Pelion IoT platform, development tools and strong customer relationships. Plextek is an accredited Pelion and Mbed service provider, offering consultancy, engineering services and systems integration.

Shahzad Nadeem, head of smart cities at Plextek, said: “Our technical experience, partnered with Arm’s IoT technologies, competence and global reach, is an extremely significant development for creating effective and secure solutions for our clients. We are proud to be recognised for the quality of our engineering design over the past 30 years and to have been made an Arm Pelion and Mbed Foundation partner and look forward to continuing our strong working relationship.”

For more information on the Arm Pelion and Mbed Partner Ecosystem and list of partners, go to: https://www.mbed.com/en/partners/