Mobile carriers get serious about quantum cryptography
The importance of telecommunication security has become increasingly clear in the Covid-19 era as a huge amount of communication is now done from a distance.
To free people from the security concerns of a remotely connected society, mobile carriers have been increasing research into quantum cryptography, long thought of as the ultimate level of cyber security.
Quantum cryptography is essentially a better way of creating digital keys that only the distributor and receiver of data can decode.
Simply put, current security systems are based on mathematical problems, which are vulnerable to hacking and decryption. On the other hand, quantum cryptography protects data by employing quantum mechanics.
Although it might sound like technology straight out of the movies, Korea's mobile carriers are already starting to utilize quantum cryptography.
SK Telecom has already released a phone that comes with a quantum cryptography function, while LG U+ has taken things one step further, applying quantum resistance encryption — or algorithms that secure it against an attack from a quantum computer — to its network. KT is pushing to have its quantum cryptographic communication technology standardized by an international body.
Quantum cryptography is essentially a whole new way of encrypting data, with an almost infinite number of possible outcomes.
Unlike the current telecommunication method that uses digital bits 0 and 1 for transmitting information, quantum cryptography uses qubit (quantum bit) that can have multiple values.
The encoded data, which is in a quantum state, can only be decoded by parties that share a random secret key, securing the confidentiality and the integrity of data. If someone tries to intercept or eavesdrop, that person is immediately exposed.
SK Telecom held a briefing session on its quantum random number generator (QRNG) chip technology with partner company Btree in Bundang, Gyeonggi last Thursday.
A quantum random number is generated by an image sensor based on the amount of light captured from an LED, all within the QRNG chip. Every second the QRNG chip generates approximately 256,000 random numbers based on the amount of light processed. The image sensor counts the captured photons from the LED and provides a series of random numbers using the random bit generator algorithm, in theory a completely unpredictable system.
The Galaxy A Quantum, the world’s first 5G smartphone with a QRNG chip, is exclusively available on SK Telecom and provides advanced security through quantum cryptography in three services — two-factor authentication named T-ID, a mobile e-certification service named Initial, and a biometric authentication-based payment system called SK Pay.
"QRNG chips digitize the random number of light particles, known as photons, emitted by an LED," said Kim Hee-gul, CTO of Btree. "This way no one can predict how many photons will be emitted by the LED at a specific time when users use their smartphones."
SK Telecom is planning to supply QRNG chips to foreign smartphone manufacturers and expand the range of uses for its quantum cryptography technology. It is also aiming to supply QRNG chips to industries that require a high level of security, such as internet of things devices and self-driving cars.
KT is focusing on leading the standardization of quantum cryptographic communication technologies.
The company’s two international standards for quantum cryptography communication have already been approved by the International Telecommunications Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), which coordinates standards for telecommunications and Information Communication Technology, and four cases are being reviewed before the creation of international standards.
The two types of international standards in the field of quantum cryptography led by KT are for open hierarchical structure technology and quantum cryptographic communication network technology.
Open hierarchical structure technology is characterized by allowing domestic and foreign companies to construct quantum cryptography communication networks freely. Previously, foreign manufacturers — such as MagicQ in the United States, Toshiba in Japan, and QuantumCTek in China — exclusively established their own quantum cryptographic communication networks.
Under the international standard for open hierarchical standards, KT succeeded in stable quantum cryptography communication in 5G networks in some areas of Gyeonggi by applying its quantum key distributor systems and encryption equipment.
Instead of quantum cryptography communication, LG U+ has focused on developing post-quantum cryptography (PQC) technology with Seoul National University's Industrial Mathematics Center and Crypto Lab and applying it to customer-only network services.
"Quantum cryptography communication technology needs a device that generates and distributes cryptographic keys,” an LG U+ official said. “On the other hand, PQC technology can be encrypted simply through software without an additional device. It is a mathematical algorithm that even quantum computers would take billions of years to solve."
Led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, IBM, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are currently working on the standardization of PQC technology.
"It is the first time in the world that PQC technology has been applied to customer-only network services, and we are planning to apply PQC technology to 5G services and wired and wireless services in the future." said an LG U+ official.
Experts point out that the market outlook for quantum cryptography communication technology is very bright as interest in security technologies has increased as non-face-to-face services expand in the Covid-19 era.
"Although there is a saying that “there is no privacy that cannot be penetrated,” quantum cryptography is fundamentally impossible to hack with current technology, so we can prevent eavesdropping or wiretapping in the field of quantum cryptography,” said Shin Min-soo, a professor at Hanyang University's business school.
“As Korea's quantum cryptography technology level is behind China, Japan and the United States, we need to overcome the technology gap quickly and meet global standards."
BY PARK HYUNG-SOO, KIM YEON-AH [firstname.lastname@example.org]