Federal government officials involved in the development of quantum information science (QIS) agreed this week that quantum encryption standards currently being worked on by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are needed to set some “rules of the road” for further development of the technology.

NIST has been looking at the issue for years, and in July said it had reached the “home stretch” in the effort to protect sensitive electronic information against the threat posed by quantum computers.

“After spending more than three years examining new approaches to encryption and data protection that could defeat an assault from a quantum computer, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has winnowed the 69 submissions it initially received down to a final group of 15,” the agency said. “This ‘selection round’ will help the agency decide on the small subset of these algorithms that will form the core of the first post-quantum cryptography standard,” it said in July.

Speaking at ACT-IAC’s Emerging Technology Forum on November 5, Paul Lopata, Principal Director for Quantum Sciences at the Defense Department’s (DoD) Office of Undersecretary of Defense and Research, said the work that NIST is doing on post-quantum cryptography is “very important” in “making sure that these standards protect a level playing field, and encouraging economic activity in a way that can benefit people broadly.”

Charles Clancy, senior vice president and general manager at MITRE Labs, commented that cryptography will suffer from “existential problems” absent the type of standards work that NIST is undertaking.

“The standards and interoperability are the real thing here,” said Ronald Thompson, Associate CIO for Transformation and Data and Chief Date Officer at NASA. “How does quantum fit, and what are the rules of the road,” he asked. “What we can learn from each other is really important.”

He continued, “This is pretty exciting … but without those standards, you are just between islands and not trying to repeat the same mistakes.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.