In the not-too-distant future, a new generation of powerful computers will transform our world in myriad ways, from advances in medical and pharmaceutical research and more accurate climate modelling to faster data processing in areas such as artificial intelligence and the financial sector.
But the very same revolutionary technology that promises to enhance so many aspects of our lives could also be used to perpetrate dangerous and debilitating cyberattacks. That’s because the cryptography currently used to safeguard digital communications and transactions will be no match for the speed and problem-solving capabilities of quantum computers, which could defeat our current encryption algorithms in seconds.
Stepping up to this challenge is Carleton University economics graduate James Nguyen, who co-founded Quantropi, a cybersecurity startup that specializes in quantum security. Since its launch in 2018, the Ottawa-based company has been steadily developing a platform that it believes will set the standard for quantum-secure data communication.
“We’re at the dawn of a paradigm shift,” says Nguyen, Quantropi’s CEO, “but the average person might not understand this until digital privacy fails them.
“Think about what will happen if and when quantum attacks become mainstream. Anybody who has access to a quantum computer will be able to break any type of protection. This threat is imminent, anywhere from three to ten years from now. We call it Y2Q.”
Not only will be your personal information be vulnerable to quantum hackers, but “bad actors” from rogue nations or criminal organizations could cause issues like electrical blackouts, military equipment failures, breaches of national security and the theft of valuable, sensitive data such as financial and medical records. The ability to compromise and paralyze phone and computer networks, making data unavailable, is real; encrypted data is already being “harvested” in order to be decrypted later using quantum computers.
“Without proper cybersecurity, 5G or 6G won’t matter,” says Nguyen.
“Without security, the Internet of Things won’t matter. Without security, fintech won’t matter. Without security, the quantum advantage becomes the quantum disadvantage.
“Somebody could use private data to defraud people. Somebody could take over a drone and instruct it to attack you. Anything can be manipulated and weaponized.”
Cybersecurity Fuels Company’s Growth
Quantropi, which Nguyen started with inventor Randy Kuang, began as a four-person company in Kuang’s basement. Today it has grown into a 25-person team in a 4,000-square-foot office. It has raised more than $8 million in financing and is set to expand again.
Quantropi’s flagship QiSpace platform, a solution rooted in quantum mechanics expressed as linear algebra, promises quantum-secure random key generation and distribution using today’s internet. Asymmetric encryption establishes trust between two parties sharing information, rendering their data uninterpretable by outsiders forever.
Two of the three cybersecurity products that comprise this platform are commercially available to clients, says Nguyen, and the third should be ready in the first quarter of 2022.
“This is what we envisioned—a platform that’s scalable for the market,” he says. “Our solution is going to work in the connected world of smart cities, smart economies and smart infrastructure.
“We’re not just about quantum security,” adds Nguyen.
“We’re about enabling a whole new ecosystem of emerging technology, a whole new ecosystem of quantum-secure applications and devices that were not possible before so that the world can continue to evolve.”
From Bit to Qubits: How Quantum Computers Work
Quantum computers work by going beyond the standard bits used by conventional computers, which rely on a binary system of ones and zeros to exchange information and can essentially only do one thing at a time.
Quantum bits, or qubits, derive their performance from the ability of atomic and subatomic particles to exist in more than one state simultaneously, a phenomenon known as superposition. Because a single qubit can represent any number of positions between one and zero, it can store and share much more information than a bit, while using less energy.
Nguyen offers an analogy. If you flip a coin, it will land on either heads or tails—like a binary bit. A qubit, however, can contain every possible angle of that coin as it flies through the air.
If you want to find somebody in a 10,000-room hotel, he continues, a contemporary computer would have to check each room one by one. A quantum computer would check all of the rooms at the same time and find the person instantly.