World’s first post-quantum cryptography on a contactless security chip
As a pioneer in the development of encryption mechanisms that can withstand the computing power of future quantum computers Infineon is already preparing for the smooth transition from currently used security protocols to post-quantum cryptography. In a world of quantum computers, post-quantum cryptography (PQC) should provide a level of security that is comparable with what RSA and ECC provide today in the classical computing world.
Security experts at Infineon’s Munich headquarters and the Center of Excellence for contactless technologies in Graz, Austria, made a breakthrough in this field. They implemented a post-quantum key exchange scheme on a commercially available contactless smart card chip, as used for electronic ID documents. The small chip size and limited storage space for storing and executing such a complex algorithm as well as the transmission speed were challenging. By demonstrating first post-quantum cryptography on a contactless security chip puts Infineon in a leading position in this field of encryption that withstands quantum computing power.
In 2017 this achievement was awarded with two SESAMES Awards for post-quantum cryptography on a contactless security chip.
Due to their computing power, quantum computers have the disruptive potential to break various currently used encryption algorithms. Quantum computer attacks on today’s cryptography are expected to become reality within the next 10 to 20 years.
Once available, quantum computers can solve certain calculations much faster than today’s computers, threatening even best currently known security algorithms such as RSA and ECC. Various internet standards like Transport Layer Security (TLS), S/MIME or PGP/ GPG use cryptography based on RSA or ECC to protect data communication with smart cards, computers, servers or industrial control systems. Online banking on “https” sites or “instant messaging” encryption on mobile phones are well-known examples.
To better respond to security threats that are yet to come, Infineon continuously collaborates with the academic community, customers and partners. And pushes for future standards that can be executed efficiently and securely on small and embedded devices.
Infineon is already exploring solutions to master "PQC".
Why to act now?
There are applications, for instance, energy infrastructure, space et al., where products' lifetime of 15-30 years is common. Thus, these applications and corresponding devices / infrastructure will be in use when quantum computers become a reality. Therefore, system designers must already think about migration from traditional asymmetric cryptography to PQC. This does not imply that PQC algorithms must mandatorily be implemented now, but rather a forward looking strategy must be in place.
The general impact on applications
The impact on cryptography will be dramatic: most public-key algorithms currently in use are expected to be broken easily by adequate quantum computers including RSA and ECC-based public-key cryptography algorithms. The most vulnerable applications concerning quantum-computer attacks are those where asymmetric cryptography is used:
Communication protocols: Authentication protocols verifying the authenticity via digital certificate provided through a PKI infrastructure. Various internet standards (e.g.Transport Layer Security (TLS), S/MIME, PGP, and GPG.)
Digital signatures: Digital signatures are increasingly replacing traditional, manual, signing of contracts. They protect signed contracts by veryfying every bit of the document against a digital signature. Public key, i.e. asymmetric, algorithms secure sign and/or verify data through digital signature algorithms.
Examples of applications of post-quantum cryptography
Identification (government) documents
Governmental applications are critical, especially due to the fact that identity theft or misuse can have major consequences. Government ID applications include travel documents (ePassport) and ID cards – often equipped with digital signature functionality.
ICT is one of the main applications where public-key/asymmetric cryptography is used, e.g. in order to secure protocols, secure storage, etc. ICT can be roughly clustered into communication technology, e.g. network equipment, and servers, e.g. running cloud services. ICT component suppliers will need to address the security related aspects tied to quantum computers and prepare upfront for a possible migration.
The increasing connectivity of cars via mobile networks enables a lot of new services and interactivity between car and end-user. Cryptography plays a major role in securing the cars against potential threats. Due to the comparable long lifetime of cars in the field, the automotive industry will need to consider the impact of quantum computing in the not too distant future.