IBM, Vodafone join GSMA’s post-quantum taskforce

  • The taskforce aims to help define policies, regulations and business processes for operators to better protect telecoms in a future of advanced quantum computing.
  • The aim of the GSMA Task Force is also to bring together leading global communications service providers with experts from IBM, Vodafone and other operators and ecosystem partners to understand and implement quantum-safe technology.

When you send an email, make an online purchase, or withdraw money from an ATM, cryptography helps keep your data private and authenticate your identity. However, the rise of quantum computing in recent years has raised concerns about the ability of future quantum computers to crack the cryptographic keys that protect many of these everyday tasks. To counteract this, in June this year the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) identified new algorithms that can withstand threats from quantum computers.

Complementing the move of NIST, GSMA, an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, announced the formation of the GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce to help define policies, regulations and carrier business processes for enhanced protection of telecoms in a future of advanced quantum computing.

In a statement to the media, the GSMA said early members included IBM, a leader in cryptography and Pioneer of quantum technology, and Vodafone. IBM, which claims to have the world’s largest fleet of cloud-accessible quantum computers – contributed to the development of three of NIST’s four selected post-quantum algorithms.

“The GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce will help define requirements, identify dependencies and create the roadmap for the implementation of quantum-secure networks to mitigate the risks associated with future, more powerful quantum computing,” noted the GSMA .

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For context, the World Economic Forum recently estimated that more than 20 billion digital devices will need to be either upgraded or replaced over the next 10 to 20 years to take advantage of new forms of quantum secure encrypted communications. This simply means that without quantum-proof controls, sensitive information such as sensitive business information and consumer data could be at risk from attackers collecting actual data for later decryption.

Unlike today’s computers, which rely on bits for calculations, quantum computers use them exponential power of quantum bits (qubits). This can be a complicated, simultaneous mixture of ones and zeros, creating the potential solve extremely complex problems that challenge even today’s most powerful supercomputers. Therefore, the GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce will meet to drive consensus and acceptance in this new space and will focus on three areas.

These three areas include strategy – to integrate quantum-proof capabilities into the technology, business processes and security of telecom network operators; Standardization – to identify the needs and common alignments for the integration of quantum secure capabilities into existing telecom networks; and Policies – Advising on public policies, regulations and compliance for telecom networks and ensuring industry-wide scaling.

IBM Global Industry General Manager Steve Canepa envisions that in a modern hybrid cloud world, communications services and computing technologies are interconnected and underpin all industries, meaning the adoption of quantum-proof cryptography in telecoms will affect all businesses and consumers . “This taskforce will support the telecoms industry by creating a roadmap for securing networks, devices and systems across the supply chain,” he noted.

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As a reminder, NIST announced in July 2022 that it had selected the first four post-quantum cryptographic algorithms to be standardized for cybersecurity in the age of quantum computing. These algorithms are designed to take advantage of the computational difficulty of problems in the mathematical domains of lattices, isogens, hash functions, and multivariate equations—protecting today’s systems and data from future quantum computing.