Toshiba to sell off-the-shelf quantum key distribution kit and eventually offer it as-a-service

Toshiba says it is ready to start selling a commercial quantum key distribution (QKD) product and will eventually move to offer QKD as-a-service.

Quantum encryption sees keys encoded in the quantum state of a particle – usually a photon – and that value shared with the other party to a connection. As quantum mechanics means that if a quantum state is measured, it is changed, it is possible to know if a quantum key has been observed. That’s valuable because if a key has been compromised, it is best not to use it.

Toshiba knows a fair bit about this stuff thanks to the quantum tech lab it has run in Cambridge, UK, since 1991. The company’s expertise recently saw it hired to build a nationwide QKD network across Japan and it has also teamed with BT and Verizon on commercial QKD services.

Now the company says that the tech it uses elsewhere is ready to go on sale, and even be deployed by its partners.

Exactly what Toshiba will sell hasn’t been disclosed, however the company says it will offer a “multiplexing platform that allows the data and the quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fiber” and a “platform for long-distance applications that maximizes speed and distance of key delivery.”

Toshiba’s depiction of its mystery QKD box. Click to enlarge

The company has also shared a picture of what looks like a 2U server that says “Quantum Key Distribution” on its fascia. And it says that by 2025 it will “launch a QKD service for organizations focusing on financial institutions.” Ergo, QKDaaS.

Senior veep and CDO Taro Shimada said the launch is all about giving businesses the tools they need as quantum computers become a reality.

“Sectors such as finance, health and government are now realizing the need to invest in technology that will prepare and protect them for the quantum economy of the future,” he said in a canned statement. “Our business plan goes far deeper and wider than selling quantum cryptographic hardware. We are developing a quantum platform and services that will not only deliver quantum keys and a quantum network, but ultimately enable the birth of a quantum internet.”

Leaving aside that last rhetorical flourish, the reference to protection is almost certainly a nod in the direction of those who point out that future quantum computers will cut through current classical crypto like a knife through butter. Which is where things get interesting, because the world has seen this arms race coming. And now Toshiba is putting QKD on the market, some users will doubtless use it for less-than-entirely-scrupulous applications.

How will those nations that already demand backdoors react once that happens? ®


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