Post-quantum encryption: French researchers recognized in the United States | Engineering Techniques

Going beyond the limits of traditional processors, quantum computing will be used for specific applications and very complex simulations. But its capabilities also call into question all the security of our exchanges. That’s why researchers around the world are working on solutions that can keep sensitive data private. And in this area, the “Frenchies” provide!

The risk does not exist yet, but it will certainly be the case in less than ten years! With the arrival of quantum computers, our exchanges on the Internet and all sensitive data that is stored in the cloud or on servers will be decryptable.

In 1994, the American computer scientist Peter Shor¹ showed that with a quantum computer, one could factor prime numbers which will have thousands or even millions of digits. A major step forward, but also very distressing. While today’s best algorithms need millions of millions of years to factor a 600-digit number, a quantum computer would only take a few…minutes.

Clearly, all the critical data of companies and administrations would no longer have any secrets for States mastering quantum computing! Faced with this danger, the scientific community has been working for several years on solutions to ensure the confidentiality of data.

Two tracks are retained: quantum cryptography and post-quantum cryptography. The first makes it possible to transport security keys without them being violated during transport. The second aims to protect themselves from the deciphering capabilities that Shor’s algorithm will give to owners of quantum computers.

CNRS-NIST license agreement

Hence the decision of the National Institute of Standards and Technology to launch, in 2017, an international call for contributions to identify the best candidates for future post-quantum cryptography standards. Finally, this American government agency has retained only four.

The Crystals-Kyber solution was chosen for encryption and key exchange, while Crystals-Dilithium, Falcon and Sphincs+ were validated for signing. And French researchers largely stand out.

In particular, two of the finalist solutions could be based on patent families filed in 2010 by teacher-researchers Philippe Gaborit and Carlos Aguilar-Melchor (University of Limoges and CNRS Xlim laboratory), and jointly owned by the CNRS and the University of Limoges.

“Concerned about the general interest of a standardization process with a global vocation, the CNRS and the University of Limoges, supported by France Brevets, have agreed on the terms of a license agreement (signed on July 5, 2022, Editor’s note) which the stakeholders welcome. The agreement thus makes it possible to promote intellectual property resulting from the results of French public research., explains the CNRS in a press release announcing this agreement with the NIST.

An already cracked algorithm!

For its part, the Crystals team (which has developed two distinct cryptography protocols) includes mostly European scientists, including Damien Stehlé, teacher-researcher in computer science at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon.

Falcon was designed by ten scientists from the University of Rennes, Brown University (USA), IBM, NCC Group, Thales and OnBoard Security. As for Sphincs+, it was created by nineteen European researchers (the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark), the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Academia Sinica (China), but also by teams from companies including Cisco Systems, Google and Cloudflare.

But this post-quantum solution is not perfect and does not guarantee 100% data privacy like quantum cryptography..

The proof, at the beginning of August, researchers from the Belgian university KU Leuven (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) announced have cracked SIKE (Supersingular Isogeny Key Encapsulation), one of the four encryption algorithms recommended by NIST. Not using a quantum computer, but a PC with a single core of an Intel Xeon processor, released in 2013…

In a nutshell, NIST prioritized ease of use over real long-term security.

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Post-quantum encryption: French researchers recognized in the United States | Engineering Techniques


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