Quantum Computers and Cryptography's Future: An AC Interview with Skip Sanzeri of QuSecure
Updated: Aug 6
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Every day, billions of people, and hundreds of billions of transactions, depend on security based around public key infrastructure (PKI) --- the cryptographic paradigm that underpins the Internet.
From electronic commerce, to streaming movies, to banking, or looking for a soul mate online, the building blocks for participating in daily life are increasingly online and interactive. PKI is the "bit-based" (1s and 0s) computer security model that enables this lifestyle.
Enter Quantum Computing, which is not based on 1s and 0s. Quantum Computing harnesses properties of sub-atomic physics to be a "qubit-based" (1---Everything-in-between---0) computing paradigm. Which computer would you bet on to crack the largest crypto-keys?
We spoke with Skip Sanzeri, the chief operating officer of QuSecure to get a grounding in quantum computing, and how it will transform the security landscape for decades to come.
This show will help you learn the difference between a classical and quantum computer. You'll understand how this difference relates to cryptography and digital life. You'll hear what's being done by government and industry to respond. What new benefits come along with the new risks. And where people can go to learn more about quantum computing.
Full interview text:
John Gauntt [00:00:01] You're listening to the Augmented City podcast, I'm John Gauntt, and we're going to talk about quantum computing and cryptography with Skip Sanzeri, who's the co-founder, board chair and chief operating officer of QuSecure, an enterprise grade security company that uses quantum computing concepts and technologies to protect the infrastructure and information systems of large firms and government agencies. And today we're going to raise your literacy about quantum computing, and what differentiates it from the computing that drives telecommunications and the Internet. And those last two terms are very important. Because most people in advanced economies keep multiple, digitally mediated relationships with friends, but also with companies, with organizations. You want to search for a permit on whether you can build? You have to contact your local government. These are now almost exclusively happening online. And so, Internet and telecommunications actually allow us to access all the building blocks we need to participate in daily life, circa 2021. And quantum computing directly targets and impacts the absolute base level security protocols and processes that underpin this infrastructure for billions of people. So, we're going to introduce some of the most basic and fundamental concepts of quantum computing, and then focus in on the specific security problems, and opportunities, that quantum computing is uniquely qualified to improve, or make worse. To be honest, there's not much middle ground. So after you hear this show, you'll be able to learn where to look for in the news cycle that would suggest momentum one way or another. And then, we'll wrap up with some places to go next if you want to learn more. Now, Skip Sanzeri is uniquely qualified to be our trail guide today. He's a long time Bay Area entrepreneur and investor across technology and other industry sectors, including publishing, health and wellness, even cannabis. He's a coauthor of Quantum Design Sprint: A Workbook for Designing a Quantum Computing Application and Disruptive Business Model, which I suppose qualifies as light bedtime reading if you live in Silicon Valley. So, Skip, thank you so much for joining us today. Skip Sanzeri [00:02:11] John, great to be here. Thank you. John Gauntt [00:02:13] Actually, let's start with you. I mean, you've been part of the technology ecosystem for decades. What drew you to quantum computing, and why? Skip Sanzeri [00:02:22] You know, John, so I originally was interested in quantum physics. Now, I'm not a trained physicist. But for anybody that starts looking at how things operate at the subatomic level, it just blows your mind. I mean, subatomic things are a world of difference than they are here in the physical world. So the physical world, we we rely on our senses. Right. But at the subatomic world, things exist and don't exist. There's weird things like entanglement where you can take a couple of subatomic particles, entangle them, separate them by a universe of distance, vast distances. And when you charge one particle, the other one reacts instantly. It cuts a tunnel through space-time. You've got weird things like interference in superposition. It is such an odd area. So I was I had been looking at that over maybe the past 10 years just as a hobby, just, just figuring it out. How do you how do you justify your physical world with subatomic? But then I had heard that they're making computers based on subatomic properties called quantum computers. The more I looked into it, the more I found that, and now many, many of the listeners may have heard about quantum computing, but I'm finding that, I found that the ability to use a computer that that uses subatomic properties like superposition and entanglement would give us enormous compute power well beyond what we have today -- if we can make them work. Now, making them work is a big challenge. But nonetheless, it started me on a journey of looking at, well, quantum computing could be something really interesting for humanity. John Gauntt [00:03:59] So let's actually look at quantum computing as a general class. I mean, people are starting to append the term quantum to many things. I mean, quantum wellness, quantum meditation, blah, blah. But when we're actually talking about computing, what are sort of the two or three things you think people need to know, that can just help them differentiate? All they've got to decide is this is a quantum computer and this is a classical computer. What are the what are those two or three factors that help differentiate them? Skip Sanzeri [00:04:29] Essentially on our classical computers, which is every type of computer today, whether it's your phone, your laptop, a large server, it doesn't matter, a satellite, they all use zeros and ones. It's a digital construct. So what happened was back 60 years ago as we started looking into computing, people came up with the idea of zeros and ones being the drivers. And we've all heard of bits and bytes of digits, and that's what that's about. However, since it's a human construct, it was going to naturally run into some of the end game. It's going to run into the the part where it just isn't going to work as well anymore. And at this point, we're kind of hitting maybe some of the limits. Like you may have heard of Moore's Law? Many of you prefer that where the compute power doubles every 18 months, the price drops, et cetera. But at this point, we've pushed the limits of Moore's Law and of chip making so that it's much harder to get efficiencies out of this. In other words, scaling these these digital computers, standard computers, that we have is becoming much more difficult. Another, we call it CMOS as well. That's that's basically architecture. But because the electrons are interfering with each other due to heat now, it's difficult to get these chips scaled so that we can go to the next level. I mean, A.I. is increasing it in the capabilities there. The amount of data is increasing thousands of times annually. And we're seeing that we're getting much less scalability out of out of the out of the gear that we have. So quantum computers operate not with on a digital structure. But quantum computers operate on true subatomic physics. And the idea behind it is that we use one of the weird properties of subatomic particles called superposition. It means a particle can be not in a zero-and-one state, but it can be in both states -- and all states in between -- at the same time. So simultaneously, it's able to be in all states. What does that mean? And in a very, very nutshell approach, it means that that they become exponentially powerful. Like, let's say I have a quantum computer that has a 50 one qubits --- qubits being a processor. If I add one more qubits, I don't have fifty one qubits. I have double the power of the 50. If I add one more, I don't have 52 qubits. I have double the power of 51. So this becomes very powerful at three hundred qubits, which is in sight, by the way, for, for a lot of the firms out there, you would have more processing power than there are atoms in the known universe. So what I'm saying is you're going to have immense, immense compute power that will do crazy things for humanity, meaning we could solve some problems that we could not otherwise solve. Looking at logistics issues and supply chain, looking at chemistry and materials, creating new materials, you're looking at genomics. A lot of hard problems can be solved with a quantum approach. So fundamentally, it's a different way of computing, much more powerful. I believe, power that as humans we can't even dream of what these things can do when we reach three, four or five thousand qubits. John Gauntt [00:07:50] One of the things that I want to now kind of pivot to is we've got that kind of compute power as enabled by subatomic physics. And those have some key advantages. But what kind of trade offs are we looking at first for just kind of how we can get quantum computers to be stable enough to do the kind of jobs that we want? What are some of the key technology trade offs to start with? Skip Sanzeri [00:08:16] Well, the challenge with quantum, so we've laid out all of the possibilities, but the challenge is something called coherence. So when we think of a quantum process, like let's take those 50 qubits I talked about. And these are literally 50 subatomic particles that could be ions, electrons, photons, the 50 subatomic particles. The way that you get a quantum computer operate is when you do a process, you need all 50 of those particles to be coherent or behave at the same time. And and that's not easy to do. That's one of the hardest things, because there's a lot of noise. Subatomic particles are unbelievably sensitive to every single thing in the environment. You know, everything from certain wide spectrum to microwave to heat. And there's all sorts of things. You're trying to get them all to do a process at once, which means they all have to be entangled at the same time. And this is the big challenge. Now they're using things like microwaves and lasers. And they're using heavy duty refrigeration, creating some of the coldest points on the universe with with liquid nitrogen to to cool these things down where they can get these things to operate and stay coherent. That's the challenge. But even in the last few years, we've gone from a few bits of coherence. We hit one hundred with Atom Computing at Berkeley and Cold Quanta. And then also our adversaries over there. In some other countries like China, they've got they had sixty-six cubits and said they are more powerful than Google's quantum computer. So, you know, with every time you could scale, you can, you can gain more coherence across more qubits. That means the next level to be better. So you getting to a hundred is very hard. But getting to the next hundred will be easier. Getting to a thousand will be really hard. But getting to the second thousand will be way easier. It's not a linear process because we're finding efficiencies left, right, sideways. So we're making progress. People are saying that they expect powerful quantum computers to be here again by 2024, 2025. John Gauntt [00:10:17] Let's talk about what that means for cryptography. And I'm not just talking about how do you keep the nation's highest secrets safe from intelligence agencies, although I'm sure that that's a vital function. But more pedestrian, like, how do I keep my bank account secure? Can you give just kind of an architectural view of how do we do it today? And then what's special about quantum computing that's going to change that? Skip Sanzeri [00:10:46] So over the years, as we've used computers more, as the Internet came around, as our lives have become more digital through IoT, as more data is moving around everything from satellites to terrestrial, we all we based everything on something called public key encryption. Without going into too much detail, what it essentially means is that we have a way of encrypting and decrypting keys so that I can share data with you. I can share with a bank. I can share with anyone. They can have my public key. They can decrypt by data and they can read it. The problem is, is that while this is pervasive, basically the entire Internet runs on PKI, which means that all data that we're using today over the Internet uses PKI, the one thing that quantum computers are very good at is factoring a large number, which is what PKI is based on. So the way PKI has come about is they just get increasingly large numbers where you have to find the two numbers that multiply into it. In other words, the factorial and quantum computers are really, really good at factoring. So it's already been mathematically proven through Shor's algorithm that quantum computers of a certain size will crack all PKI, meaning that in a number of years now, nobody knows if this is three, four or five or 10 years because we don't know yet. But we're betting sooner than later. We're betting on the front side to be safe. When quantum computers come online with enough power, the encryption won't matter any more the type that we have today. So NIST, our National Institute of Standards and other government agencies in the US and globally are working on new standards that are where the cryptography is no longer vulnerable, even to a quantum computer. Because what a quantum computer comes online all PKI goes down. It's it. It's over. The first one there if you're not upgraded, all your data is exposed. And they have access to it. But the bigger problem, too, is not even the future when a quantum computer is powerful enough, because that's that's when it can break through. But a lot of data is getting stolen today that's encrypted. So you think about if somebody breaks into a database, either a government database, financial database, any of them, they're going to just download and store that data. They can't decrypt it because remember, it still has or it's still has symmetric cryptography in it. It's hard to break. But when they have quantum, they'll be able to take that previously stolen data and they'll be able to decrypt it. So that's why we tell people the time to start dealing with this is now. In fact, if you talk with our contacts at Hanscom Air Force Base, I'm one of one of the one of the contracts that we have. They'll tell you that's already too late because so much data is stolen. So we call it steal now, decrypt later. Others call it harvesting. But what it really means is data is getting stolen today and people are just going to sit on it. And when a quantum computer comes around in three, five, seven years, they'll have the keys to the kingdom. But if we reverse that process, John, and we say today, guess what, you take some quantum cryptography, you put it on your databases now. Even if they access this later with a quantum computer, it'll be decades before they can get through. So that's why we're pushing people, whether it's an enterprise or government agencies. Please, you've got to look at this now. Start dealing with it now, because if you operate your cryptography to post quantum, you're safe even if your data get stolen. So it's very helpful. John Gauntt [00:14:25] So the hackers are sort of to put it into kind of concrete physical terms are sort of like a burglar who stole a safe and says, I know there's something valuable in it, don't know what, but if you got a blowtorch, you can crack it open. Skip Sanzeri [00:14:37] That's right. Yeah. And it's just a matter of time before they grab that blowtorch. We know we know they're going to access a blow torch is just how soon will they get that? John Gauntt [00:14:47] OK, well, obviously, now that we've covered the fear angle, let's talk about the opportunity angle, which is more of a quantum computing has this capability and this power just like an acetylene torch to do good and bad. Let's let's switch on to the good side. And when you're talking about, like quantum key distribution and such, how can quantum computers actually make communications or data more secure? Now that we've covered how they can crack it open? Skip Sanzeri [00:15:18] Sure. Well, one of the ways that we're doing is we're using something called quantum random number generation. What that is, it's the ability to create a random number with a very small quantum process, not the size of a huge quantum machine, but a smaller one. And we combine that with these algorithms that allows us to create what we call a quantum channel and secure the data. And so this is the beginnings of using quantum for defense, because right now we don't have quantum computers that are large enough either to do this. So people say, well, how can we be sure that these quantum computers that are coming are our algorithms? How can we be sure that they'll get through? And how can we test to make sure that they don't? Well, the answer is this. We don't have those quantum computers today. We really can't test. But with something like a quantum random number generator, we're able to do that. So it allows us to to say, OK, we can create a quantum random number. We can tie it in with some encryption. And because it's truly quantum, it's truly the most random thing in the universe. That means that we end up with the beginnings of the, let's just say, quantum defense. Now, later, my theory, John, is that the only thing that will really stop a quantum computer later as these things scale up, will be another quantum computer. And that's where you'll have quantum algorithms. We call them circuits that you'll build to make sure that if another quantum computer attacks, you have true quantum defense. So now you're looking at exponential qubits against exponential qubits. That's where things will end up. I'm certain of it. But for now, because we don't really have a quantum computer strong enough that because if we had one strong enough to stop the attack, that means we have not strong enough to do the attack. And again, we have to realize that China, Russia, some of these other countries are right along with us. So so it's going to be an interesting future. But for now, we're using quantum random number generation as a key to seed our cryptography. John Gauntt [00:17:20] And the purpose of the random numbers is to make those unique keys that are virtually impossible computationally to factor with brute force. Skip Sanzeri [00:17:32] Yeah, what you're doing is you're combining random numbers, a random number generation with, let's say in the case of data at rest, which is basically stored data with AES. And then we're creating a secure quantum channel around that so that somebody is very difficult to break at. And even if you do, that data is encrypted with randomness and AES 256. And then on the PKI side, on the public key side, we actually have created a quantum channel and this quantum channel uses SABER and KYBER. Those two algorithms we have what we call cryptographic agility, which means you can rotate those or use what you want. We create a quantum channel that actually ensures well to the to the great extent we can, ensure that it would be very difficult to break even with a quantum computer. And the best news is that it's also unbelievably resilient to classical computers. So you get a win, you get a win win, you're protecting against future. So you're future proofing the quantum, you're protecting against existing now with classical. But yeah, the idea is to create systems, processes and algorithms that that are quantum resilient. That's what we're really focused on and then handle data and use and data at rest about. John Gauntt [00:18:51] So, I mean, how is quantum computing now, and I know these are embryonic days, but how is it packaged and sold to customers? Skip Sanzeri [00:19:00] So there are a few very large customers, like some of our federal government agencies and a couple large companies that care to try to buy one. Like if you look at D-WAVE, a form of quantum computing called quantum annealing or digital annealing, there's a few groups that I think Google bought one and maybe Lockheed. But for the most part, I would say 90 plus percent of this will be launched in the cloud. And so this will actually be from from what we can see, John, this will be the first computer platform ever that is truly cloud based as it launches. John Gauntt [00:19:37] Would you say, just as a rough parallel, like with quantum computing, as far as like adoption in general, it's almost like a pre web browsing Internet. It exists. There are people who know about it. And it works. But there's not a, there's not that breakthrough application, but also that breakthrough type of interface and experience. And so right now, to a lot of people in the general public, quantum computing is like this exotics category. But do you see it having the potential of becoming as mainstream as what we get with the Internet? Skip Sanzeri [00:20:15] In some ways, yes, John. Not in every way. We'll still use classical computing for a lot of things. But again, you think of the specific areas where quantum can really, really help. Like you think of let's take materials creation or chemistry, either one. When you're when you're dealing with, let's say, large molecule manipulation or you're dealing with a lot of electron interactions, you have to map all of the interactions towards each other. So if you have 20 electrons and then you have 40 on the other side, you're mapping all of those interactions. That's why it's very difficult to to map that out and create, let's say, new materials. And what quantum does, is it allows you to run all those instances at the same time so you can find the optimal path to do that, like photosynthesis. Here's a natural quantum phenomena, photosynthesis, obviously, how our plants take in light and convert. That's a quantum quantum property. Basically what it does is it takes that light. It finds the optimal path and creates the energy. So it's it's there's a lot of quantum processes that are operating around us in the universe now. And what quantum computers are designed to do is say, OK, let's let's let's try to do the same thing. So when I think of, again, heavy duty calculations have to do with logistics. So example, traveling, traveling salesman, salesman. Problem is, is a very simple problem is if you have 10 different cities and 10 different locations, what is the optimal path for that salesperson to traverse to get there in the quickest time? That simple problem crushes nearly every classical computer. It's too heavy duty, just 10 cities, John. It's not one hundred cities. And so but a quantum computer, because the difficulty of that say you think of things we call combinatorial explosions where where things explode exponentially, and in scale. That's what what quantum is really good at, because all you need to do is add the qubits. And as that scales your qubits scale exponentially at the same time. So it gives you those opportunities again for chemistry, material science, genomics, protein folding, logistics, weather prediction, who knows, interstellar travel, gravitational manipulation could be many, many opportunities down the road. Like we just don't know what can we do with four four thousand qubits, the number two to the four thousand. What is that number. It's too big to even think about, but the power would be amazing. John Gauntt [00:22:52] So for listeners who are who have taken this this walk with us, what are some of the things that they should start looking for in the news cycle that's going to indicate momentum, you know, whether positive or negative, about quantum computing becoming more integrated deeply into the fabric of how government and industry works? Skip Sanzeri [00:23:12] Yeah, I mean, with what I did and this is one way to do it is I just set up a Google alert for quantum computing and I get maybe 40, 50 articles a day. If you set up an alert and you just watch that for a few days, you'll see all the activity out there. It's happening more and more. And again, the scalability is coming around. That's one way to do it. The other thing is YouTube is a great resource. You know, you can go to and look at videos on quantum computing, understand the subatomic properties. And, you know, again, anybody who looks at this, everybody we've talked with, it's just they're just enamored with it because, you know, things operate so differently. But but amazingly. Right. And then, of course, there's books out there. You go to Amazon, everybody books. Jack Hidary wrote a great book. If you're into quantum programing, you will learn more. That book is amazing. And there's there's a variety of sites like the Quantum Computer Report, Doug Finke that's online. You can get you can get weekly updates from that. But yeah, it's out there. You just have to put your get your search up and you'll see plenty. Or just just search quantum computing and Google News and you'll have plenty to read there. John Gauntt [00:24:27] And then lastly, how can we find you and you and QuSecure? Skip Sanzeri [00:24:31] Oh, absolutely. Yeah, we are at qusecure.com Q-U-S-E-C-U-R-E dot COM. And if anyone wants to contact us, feel free to go to the website. Look around. Our focus again is the cyber security portion of this to get people post quantum resilient. But but we also deal a lot with applications companies. like we're in touch with the guys at Bracket and IBM and you know, most of the companies anyway, because we like to see what the future holds. But, yeah, feel free to to contact us any time. My email is skip at qusecure.com. And if folks need assistance or or they need resources or would like to discuss, we're happy to, to talk any time. John Gauntt [00:25:14] Excellent, so Skip Sanzeri, who's the chief operating officer at QuSecure. Thank you so much for speaking with us today. Skip Sanzeri [00:25:21] Thank you, John. So glad to be here. Thank you so much. John Gauntt [00:25:24] And you've been listening to the Augmented City podcast, which is a production of the Augmented City LLC and the SoundCasting Network. You can find us on all major podcasting platforms and our Web site, theaugmented dot city. And you can find me. John Gauntt on LinkedIn. Or send me an email john AT theaugmented dot city. And please, rate and reviews on your favorite platform. It really helps the show. So thanks again to Skip Sanzeri and we will talk again.