« Back Farewell to Data Leaks: Quantum Technology for Secure Data Future

by Ryuji Maruyama, Corporate Representative – Asia, Toshiba Corporation & Managing Director, Toshiba Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd

Today’s Data Security Backdrop

Data security continues to be a hit topic these past few years, with breaches occurring across businesses and government networks. As businesses accelerate digital transformation and revamp operations to adapt to the pandemic-induced new normal – more than ever, there is an urgent need to secure data communications. This is a priority and challenge, especially for private and public institutions that handle highly sensitive data, including Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of customers and residents.

The question is – how?

While current public key encryption methods are secure and essential to data security, hackers are always evolving, and new attack methods pose a constant threat. The looming emergence of quantum computing will ultimately render our current encryption methods unsafe, putting sensitive data at risk in the near future.

One technology that has shown great promise is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), which utilises the principles of quantum physics to network communications. It not only has the potential to support critical data communications and storage infrastructure today, but is also future-proofed for protection in the impending quantum age. Current security challenges combined with the growing need for and scrutiny of data security is expected to fuel demand and growth for this technology globally.

QKD 101

Many of our daily interactions – from communicating on messaging apps to online transactions – rely on encryption technology to secure the transmission and retrieval of data. QKD taps on quantum physics to do the same thing, securing the transmission of data between two or more parties over high-speed fiber-optic networks.

QKD’s unique selling point? Using photons, which are particles of light, to generate “keys” that secures encrypted data transmissions. If a third party tries to listen in during the key transmission process, it alerts users that the line is being tapped, and the transmission can be terminated immediately.

QKD can be used in a wide range of cryptographic applications, such as the encryption or authentication of sensitive documents, messages or transactions. The advancement of this technology will make it accessible to a wide range of users, from government bodies to financial institutions. With the adoption of QKD, organisations can better protect both user data and proprietary information, while end users enjoy decreased vulnerability to being victims of cybercrime.

The State of QKD in Singapore

Singapore’s government has spearheaded initiatives that support the growth and development of quantum technologies, through open innovation and collaboration with industry partners and universities. In 2002, the Quantum Information Technology Group was formed, and later became the foundation for Singapore’s first Research Centre of Excellence – the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT) in 2007.

Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) is also partnering CQT to build quantum-related capabilities in Singapore. In 2019, the National University of Singapore (NUS) partnered with Singtel, and successfully tested QKD implementation in Singtel’s commercial fibre networks. This paves the way for future QKD adoption and deployment in Singapore.

Singapore’s early move into quantum research, coupled with the right infrastructure, expertise and a spirit of open collaboration and innovation helps position it as a forerunner in QKD, and potentially becoming a hub for global QKD research.

Breakthroughs in QKD

QKD has been proven to work in multiple network field trials, providing a fail-safe way to transmit data securely – even across borders.

Till recently, the range of QKD had been limited to a few hundred kilometres of fibre-optic cable. A Twin-Field QKD protocol discovered by Toshiba enhances key rate and transmission distance of QKD, potentially allowing fibre links beyond 500KM. This breakthrough opens up the possibility of secure transmission of data between cities like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

An application breakthrough in QKD has also been introduced this August. Toshiba Corporation, Tohoku University’s Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization and Tohoku University Hospital recently demonstrated that quantum cryptographic communications technology can provide researchers and doctors with a safe data management environment, allowing for secure, real-time transmission of sensitive genome analysis and clinical case conference data. This is the world’s first development and demonstration of the technology in securing highly sensitive healthcare data – a big plus.

Accelerating QKD adoption in Singapore

The wide-scale deployment of commercialised QKD will take time, as the technology is still being refined. While QKD is being promoted via open collaboration between the government, industry partners and universities, its advancement can be further accelerated with stakeholder engagement, infrastructure improvements and cost efficiencies.

Industry suppliers can also focus on improving protocol standardisation, enhancing the interoperability of technologies and further develop the components market to drive cost reductions and accelerate QKD deployment.

Businesses which invest in securing their data communications will not only avoid costs incurred with data breaches, such as data recovery, compensation and security upgrades, but also prevent intangible costs such as the loss of business and most importantly, their reputation.

Looking Ahead

The potential benefits of QKD are far reaching, benefitting not only data-critical industries but also private companies looking to safeguard proprietary or customer information to maintain an edge over their competitors. End users will also benefit with the increased protection of their personal data.

With QKD already proving its efficacy in the healthcare sector, QKD can potentially be applied to benefit Singapore’s growing healthcare sector as a starting point.

While the government is taking steps to enhance the security of its healthcare system, QKD offers a fail-safe approach, future-proofed against existing security threats and the quantum age. QKD offers multiple benefits – from securing the transmission and retrieval of patient data, to being applied to areas such as clinical sequencing and transmission of highly-sensitive analysis data.

As telemedicine gains traction in Singapore especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, QKD can support future developments of tele-medical services, where patients seeking consultations in remote locations can trust their privacy with doctors.

If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it is to be prepared for unexpected events, serving us a timely reminder that digital transformation is vital. Research into advanced technologies like QKD will grow in importance, the world looks to the next frontier of securing and future-proofing our communications infrastructure to build a safer cyberspace.

Source: Toshiba Corporation