The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) is marshaling the expertise of Southwest Virginia researchers and partners around the state to develop strategies for quantum-aware cybersecurity. This program supports efforts to harness the power of quantum-based techniques to secure information or develop systems that withstand attack from a quantum-equipped adversary.

In October, CCI Southwest Virginia and the Virginia Tech Center for Quantum Information Science and Engineering (VTQ) jointly issued a call for proposals for the Quantum Aspects of Cybersecurity program to fuel research in quantum information science, engineering, and technology related to cybersecurity.

“The objective of this program is to enhance Virginia’s role as a cybersecurity leader by seeding efforts from multi-institutional teams to generate research and talent development in support of larger-scale efforts and intellectual property related to quantum information science, engineering, and technology in cybersecurity,” said Gretchen Matthews, director of CCI in Southwest Virginia and professor of mathematics in the College of Science.

The selected projects combined diverse expertise from institutions throughout Southwest Virginia and involved collaborators from elsewhere in the state.

“It is exciting that researchers from several Virginia universities are coming together to work on problems at the interface of cybersecurity and quantum information science,” said Sophia Economou, VTQ director and T. Marshall Hahn Chair in Physics in the College of Science.

A student flashes two peace signs next to a smiling professor in front a computer monitor
Bruce Barbour (at left), a Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) student researcher in aerospace and ocean engineering, will be part of the team investigating methods to secure satellite communications against large-scale quantum computers. With support from CCI Southwest Virginia’s Quantum Aspects of Cybersecurity program, the Virginia Tech team will be working with researchers from the University of Surrey, including Mohamed Kassem (at right). Photo courtesy of Samantha Parry Kenyon.

The following researchers and projects will receive support:

Quantum keys management for satellite communications

James McClure, Virginia Tech National Security Institute
Samantha Parry Kenyon, Center for Space Science and Engineering, Virginia Tech
Denis Gracanin, Department of Computer Science, Virginia Tech
Mohamed Azab, Department of Computer and Information Sciences, Virginia Military Institute
David Jones, Cyber Defense Lab, Virginia Military Institute

Satellite-based communications systems will play an essential role in the future internet. Within the last two decades, mobile communications have become ubiquitous due to widespread dependence on cellphones, tablets, and other devices. Beyond supporting basic communications, future space infrastructure must support increased demand from data streaming, sensor networks, and the internet-of-things (IoT). The security of communications is equally paramount: Mobile devices are widely used for economic transactions and other sensitive communications, and IoT applications transmit a wide range of data that is susceptible to exploitation and abuse. Of primary concern is the threat that large-scale quantum computers will break the public-key cryptosystem that is widely used for secure data transmission. Quantum key distribution (QKD), which is based on photon entanglement, is among the more promising strategies to secure future communications. Rather than relying on algorithmic computational complexity to encode secret keys, QKD relies on fundamental laws of physics to ensure that any eavesdropping can be provably detected. This project proposes a dynamic software-defined collaborative QKD network, where multiple satellites and ground stations carry out a multidimensional QKD exchange.

Resurrecting SIKE: Developing and implementing new isogeny-based post-quantum schemes

Jason LeGrow, Department of Mathematics, Virginia Tech
Krzysztof Gaj, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, George Mason University

Post-quantum cryptography is the cryptographic community’s response to the power of attacks performed using quantum algorithms. Post-quantum cryptography schemes can be implemented in software and hardware using conventional (non-quantum) computing systems but still resist all known attacks involving even the most powerful quantum computers. To initiate a timely transition to a new class of cryptographic schemes, the National Institute of Standards and Technology launched the post-quantum cryptography standardization process by calling for public-key post-quantum cryptographic algorithms. On July 5, four schemes were selected for standardization. Among those selected for additional investigation was one scheme called Supersingular Isogeny Key Establishment (SIKE). Despite withstanding years of assessment, cryptanalysts found a weakness in SIKE in July, rendering the scheme insecure. This project will explore variants that resist attack and develop algorithms and implementations that can make these variants as efficient as possible — particularly to bring post-quantum cryptography to extremely constrained devices, such as Internet of Things devices.

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