Satellites Will Play a Key Role in the Era of Quantum Computing

Satellites
May 1, 2019
Author
Chad Anderson
Jessica Holland
Justus Kilian
May 1, 2019
Authors
Chad Anderson
Jessica Holland
Justus Kilian

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Satellites Will Play a Key Role in the Era of Quantum Computing
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Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines already: the “quantum revolution” (or perhaps the quantum computing apocalypse”) is coming, and it’s going to require a total overhaul in the way that we keep our digital world safe. It’s a complicated topic to unpack, but for anyone interested in the space sector, it’s worth getting to grips with. That’s because satellites will play a crucial role in securing systems against quantum-computer hacks—and, here at Space Angels, we have recently added a company to our investment portfolio that’s working on exactly that type of solution.

For those who aren’t up to speed on this complex topic, here are the basics. While classical computers rely on units of information that can be either zero or one, quantum computers use qubits, which can exist in more than one state at the same time. This allows them to solve complex mathematical problems because of the way they are able to process some types of information much more efficiently.

This process doesn’t help solve every type of problem, but one task it’s particularly well-suited for is for decoding encrypted information. The type of encryption that’s commonly used to keep communication safe today involves a public key that senders can use to turn a message into strings of incoherent symbols, and a private key, held only by the recipient, that resolves it into something meaningful again. The advantage of this encryption method is that you don’t have to find some ultra-secure method of sharing your private key with whoever wants to communicate with you, as you’re the only one who needs it.

In theory, it’s possible for computers to keep making guesses until they crack the code protecting your data without having the private key, but in reality, there’s no way a conventional computer could be powerful enough to manage it. Because of the way that qubits work, however, it should soon be possible for quantum computers to do this guessing much more quickly—quickly enough that the most securely protected CIA data could be instantly unlocked.

There are plenty of institutions that are prepared to go to great lengths to keep these communications safe. Consider the U.S. Department of Energy: in 2018, it was revealed that Russian hackers had broken into the control rooms of power plants across the country and had the opportunity to alter their operations. Infrastructure providers like these—along with defense agencies, embassies, telecoms companies, financial institutions, cloud computing firms, and any other businesses that are heavily invested in securing their data—would be devastated if a quantum computer was made available tomorrow that could unlock all their secrets.

Photo credit: IBM

And those machines are coming. In January 2019, IBM made a quantum computer that’s commercially available for use via the cloud—the first of its kind. It only operates with 20 qubits, and computers will need more than double that number to start overtaking the power of conventional computers, but it’s a significant step forward. Google and Microsoft are among the companies that are working on their own quantum solutions, and the Chinese government is reportedly investing billions to get ahead in the quantum race.

Quantum-safe encryption methods will soon be widespread

This may all sound worrying, but a solution to quantum-powered hacking has already been found. It’s called Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), and it makes use of another mysterious nature of subatomic particles called quantum entanglement. This involves the way that two particles in different locations can be intimately connected: do something to one and it affects the other, as if there was a wormhole through space linking them. Try to observe this relationship however, and it collapses—just as other strangely indeterminate properties of subatomic particles resolve themselves when they’re monitored.

As abstract as all this seems, quantum entanglement can be used to send encryption keys in a way that’s completely secure: because of their sensitivity to observation it’s immediately obvious if the message is intercepted, and a new key can be sent. This makes it possible to use an encryption technique called the one-time pad, which involves a key as long as the message itself. Once the message is encrypted using this key, there is no way for a computer to keep guessing until it breaks the code.

With QKD, it’s possible to encode these one-time pads in individual light particles called photons, which can be sent via fiber optic cables. Unfortunately, the cables absorb or scatter some of this light, so you can only send keys about 150 miles using this method. Still, networks of this type are being laid everywhere in the world, from New York to Beijing.

A better solution for long-distance QKD, however, or for a business that wants to communicate with multiple hubs without establishing cables between all of them, is sending encryption keys via satellite. That’s what scientists in China and Austria managed to do in 2017, when they successfully carried out an intercontinental video conference that was secured with quantum encryption.

They used a satellite called Micius, in sun-synchronous orbit, that pulsed the code-containing photons down first to a ground station in Xinglong, China, and then, as it passed over Graz, Austria, down to a receiver there. For the final step from the ground center to the science academies where the video call would take place, the message was communicated over optical fibers. There are still some security weaknesses in this system—it’s still possible to tap into the cables forming that final step, for example— but this demonstration was proof that secure communication is possible on a global scale using quantum key distribution.

Singaporean startup SpeQtral has a headstart on the market

The market for this type of quantum-safe communication is about to take off, and businesses and governments aren’t waiting until quantum supremacy happens to start protecting themselves. While companies offering QKD solutions are just starting to emerge in the U.S. and elsewhere, there’s a Singaporean startup called SpeQtral that has a big advantage over the competition.

The company spun out of the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), which has been developing cutting-edge QKD technology since it was founded with $158m in funding back in 2007. The institute’s director is Artur Ekert, one of the scientists who invented the field of quantum cryptography, who wrote his thesis on quantum entanglement and cryptographic keys in 1991, and who set up the first research group on the topic shortly afterward in Oxford, UK.

SpeQtral’s mission is to commercialize the innovations developed at CQT, which focuses particularly on miniaturizing QKD technology for small satellites. Its aim in the short term is to provide a tailored QKD service for individual organizations that are willing to pay a premium to protect themselves. Later, they expect quantum encryption to become much more widespread, to the point where it’s an upgrade routinely offered by regular communication networks.

The potential for the technology developed by SpeQtral to scale is therefore almost unlimited, and we were excited that Space Capital led the company’s $2 million Seed round in January with participation from Shasta, GGV, SG Innovate, and Space Angels. The quantum-computing era is only just starting, and although no-one can quite predict the mind-bending twists it might take next, we’re proud to be helping to fuel this innovation. That’s not just because it’s pushing the limits of human ingenuity, but also because it could soon become indispensable to keep the institutions we rely on safe from attack.  

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