Editorial Feature

First Commercially-Available Quantum-Enhanced Key Generation Platform

Cambridge Quantum has made its new service, Quantum Origin, available to corporations. This is the world’s first commercially available Quantum-Enhanced Key Generation platform. The company promises that this service will overcome the weaknesses of cryptographic key generation by using the true random number generation offered by quantum computing.

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Who is Cambridge Quantum?

Cambridge Quantum was founded in 2014 by Ilyas Khan, supported by the University of Cambridge’s “Accelerate Cambridge” program. With its team of experienced scientists, Cambridge Quantum has successfully developed and marketed quantum software for a number of purposes. Cambridge Quantum’s products include a quantum-software development toolkit, a chemistry simulation tool, and bespoke algorithms for its clients’ needs. The company is also experimenting with quantum machine learning and with the advent of Origin it has entered into the quantum cybersecurity market.

In 2021, Cambridge Quantum merged with Honeywell Quantum Solutions to form Quantinuum. A subsidiary of the American company Honeywell International, Honeywell Quantum Solutions is developing trapped-ion quantum computers. Its focus on hardware is the perfect match for Cambridge Quantum’s successes in software development. Origin is the first product to arise from this partnership and makes the future of Quantinuum look promising.

Key Cryptography

Cryptographic keys are used to either encode or decode cryptographic data. With a given encryption algorithm, one may use the key to encode information, and only someone with access to the same key may decode that information. This is a cryptographic method that dates back well before the invention of classical computers.

Key cryptography has been something of an arms race throughout the history of computing. The Bombe constructed at Bletchley Park in, a significant step towards modern computing, was designed specifically for cracking keys used by the German Enigma Machine during World War Two. Since then, there has been a continuous back and forth as new methods of key generation and distribution have been implemented, then subsequently broken through new hacking techniques.

There is concern that as quantum computing becomes more widespread, the security of classical computers will become weaker. Post-quantum cryptography is the study of these changes, and key cryptography has been identified as a potential weakness. Currently, most keys are created through pseudo-random number generation (PRNG), and this randomness theoretically makes the key harder to break. However, classical computers are not able to generate truly random keys, and if one can determine the algorithm used for the PRNG it becomes far easier to reverse-engineer the keys. Hackers using classical computers were already finding ways to do this, and the processing capabilities of quantum computers could break them even faster.

Quantum Origin

Cambridge Quantum aims to solve the problems with key cryptography through their new service called Origin. Quantum Origin is the world’s first commercially available Quantum-Enhanced Key Generation Platform. With code created by Cambridge Quantum and the hardware of Honeywell Quantum Solutions, Origin uses a quantum computer to generate keys for cryptography. Due to the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, keys generated by a quantum computer are truly random, as opposed to the pseudo-random keys generated by classical computers. This removes any shortcuts for cracking the keys, making hacking almost impossible for both quantum and classical computers.

Origin distributes its keys through the cloud. Users can generate keys on demand, which are transferred to them via the cloud from the quantum computer. This transfer is protected with another key to prevent the key from being cracked through virtual eavesdropping.

It should be noted that Quantum Origin is not a Quantum Key Distribution platform, despite similarities in name. Quantum Key Distribution is the use of quantum technology to distribute a classically-generated key, using quantum properties to detect any eavesdropping on the key’s transfer. Quantum-Enhanced Key Generation instead uses quantum technology to generate the key, then uses classical cloud services to distribute it. This means that Quantum-Enhanced Key Generation is easier to incorporate into existing classical systems while benefitting from the enhanced security of quantum technology.

Current and Future Applications

Following its commercial launch, the Quantum Origin service is now available to financial and cybersecurity companies. Quantinuum also plans to offer this service to organizations involved with telecommunications, energy, manufacturing, and defense in the near future.

Some companies have tested the technology already. For the launch of Quantum Origin, the company Axiom Space used the service to send an encrypted message to the International Space Station. Fujitsu is working with Quantinuum to implement Quantum Origin in its existing Software Defined Network.

Cambridge Quantum has two integration goals for Quantum Origin: Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Hardware Security Modules (HSMs). VPNs are protocols for establishing secure connections between servers, though they have become liable to cyber-attacks in recent years. Cambridge Quantum state that Quantum Origin can be used for encryption in VPNs to increase their security.

HSMs are devices that can be used to encrypt data, and often come with their own built-in key generation. Cambridge Quantum has partnered with Thales and Crypto4A, two cybersecurity companies, to design HSMs that receive keys from Quantum Origin instead of creating their own. 

More from AZoQuantum: Quantum Technology in the UK

References and Further Reading 

Honeywell. Honeywell Quantum Solutions. Online. (2022) https://www.honeywell.com/us/en/company/quantum

IBM. About Encryption Keys. Online. (2022) https://www.ibm.com/docs/en/ts11xx-tape-drive?topic=STPRH6/com.ibm.storage.drives.doc/top_tscom_reuse_encryptoview_keys.htm

Cambridge Quantum. Cambridge Quantum Launches Quantum Origin. Online. (2021) https://cambridgequantum.com/quantum-origin-press-release/

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