Technologies for the era of quantum computers
A few years ago, they were considered miracle machines, now we are getting closer to using them – quantum computers promise exponential performance gains over conventional computers. Bundesdruckerei is exploring the potential of this new generation of computers and developing procedures to protect existing systems from their computing power.
Calculating between zero and one
The discussion is still restricted to specialist circles, but soon quantum computers are likely to have practical relevance. The computer generation of tomorrow makes use of the laws of quantum mechanics, leaving binary systems behind. While in a classical computer every bit takes on either the value zero or one, quantum computing has a whole range of other states thanks to the principle of superposition. The behaviour of particles that underlies quantum technologies may push the boundaries of what is intuitively conceivable, but this does have implications of great consequence. That’s because the way quantum computers work enables numerous simultaneous computing processes, so that previously unsolvable tasks can be completed in the shortest possible time.
Quantum advantages and security risks
The power of quantum computing offers enormous opportunities for solving a wide range of complex problems, ranging from personnel scheduling and energy network optimization to material simulation. At the same time, quantum computing poses risks for existing security procedures: Quantum-based computing power poses risks for established encryptions which until now have been practically impossible to crack. Where even a – conventionally working – supercomputer would need hundreds of thousands of years to simply ‘try out’ encryptions, a quantum computer could crack them in no time at all. Classical security systems must be prepared for this.
The funded PlanQK project: Unlocking quantum-assisted AI (QAI)
Quantum computers are still a rarity. Since their use is fundamentally different from conventional computers and requires a high degree of specialization, they are currently used by just a few experts. In the PlanQK project, a platform is being created to combine expertise and make it easier for users to access quantum-assisted AI applications. In this way, medium-sized companies that cannot build up their own expertise in quantum computing and artificial intelligence will also be able to benefit from the new technologies.
The platform offers addressees professional support and provides them with specific algorithms and applications. In addition, users will have access to quantum computing capacity. Since 2021, the IBM Q System One quantum computer at IBM’s headquarters near Stuttgart has been the first computer of its kind on European soil. The computing capacities of this quantum computer are also open to PlanQK’s partners.
Security component for quantum computers
One focal aspect of the PlanQK project is the ‘security building block for digital ecosystems’. The aim is to protect future identity systems from attacks carried out using quantum technologies. Based on quantum mechanical equations and principles, cryptographic methods are being studied to learn how QAI can be integrated into security concepts – to detect anomalies, for example. Bundesdruckerei is exploring how data can be best tailored to the functioning of AI and quantum computing through optimum structuring and processing.
Cooperation with CERN: Basic research meets IT security
Since 2019, Bundesdruckerei has been engaged in a close interdisciplinary exchange with scientists at CERN in Geneva. The focus is particularly on the question of how findings from quantum physics can be transferred to IT systems. For example, novel methods could use the quantum mechanical principle of ‘entanglement’ when generating cryptographic keys.
PoQuID: Post-quantum cryptography
So-called post-quantum cryptography is relevant to almost all areas of life – from ID cards to e-mail communication and online banking, from telemedicine to access systems. After all, a large part of the conventional systems used today will remain in operation when the first quantum computers have arrived in everyday life and could then be used for potentially powerful attacks.
From the crypto building block to the complete system
Cryptographic procedures have a long lead time. That is why researchers at Bundesdruckerei have been working on quantum-resistant encryption methods for many years. In the PQCRYPTO project, which was launched in 2015, renowned European universities and industry partners came together to develop several encryption components that were able to demonstrate their robustness against quantum-assisted attacks.
Quantum-resistant cryptography for ID systems
In the PoQuID project, innovators are building on the groundwork laid by PQCRYPTO. Security methods that are compatible with established structures are being tested, and quantum-resistant encryption is being implemented. Demonstrators check the security of the cryptographic procedures in the ID card and document verification device.
The project mandate includes participation in relevant standardization bodies, such as DIN, ISO or ICAO. “Every ID document must comply with internationally recognized protocols. After all, a highly secure passport should not only work in Germany, it should also be possible to read this passport at the Argentinian border,” says Dr. Manfred Paeschke, Chief Visionary Officer at Bundesdruckerei GmbH.