Why Financial Institutions Need Post-Quantum Cryptographic-Agility

header image

Financial companies pride themselves on ensuring the security of their client’s personal and financial data. The investments made by a financial institution in cybersecurity to maintain cutting-edge capabilities require a relentless focus on evaluating the threat landscape, adapting to new threats, and implementing mitigation measures.

This contributes to the financial institution’s reputation and viability. Now there is a threat that no institution can ignore. In fact, the U.S. government has already mandated mitigation within its agencies. This threat comes from a new class of computers that use quantum properties.

Advancements in Quantum Computers

As our current demands stretch today’s computer capacity and energy requirements, it has become necessary to build the next generation of computational power using quantum properties. These properties have remained mysterious and hard to understand for many decades, nevertheless, mathematicians have shown that algorithms based on these new types of computers work very differently than regular computers – and under certain conditions, theoretically outperform their classical counterparts. With all the benefits these high-powered quantum computers will deliver since their algorithms can sample all data together or find patterns in data, they can also lead to the ability to break our RSA security protocols and expose sensitive data.

Quantum computers are currently still in the early stages, but those in the quantum field are seeing unprecedented technological improvements and making daily announcements of new capabilities. Many governments and private investors have funded this technology for key competitive advantages for several years. It is inevitable that quantum computers with unimaginable capabilities will become a reality within the next decade. Unfortunately, today’s security keys will not provide protection against a computer whose computational capability scales much faster than that of existing computers.

Over the past ten years, quantum technology has advanced drastically and sparked anxiety over the security of encrypted data. Quantum computers have been known to crack our current encryption systems, which prompted alarm among U.S. federal agencies. However, this innovative breakthrough also brings many potential advantages to financial services that should be considered. To combat the cybersecurity risk brought forth by quantum computers, numerous federal organizations including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are diligently working on creating and improving encryption algorithms that can withstand quantum computing power. Moreover, they have also proposed guidelines for promptly transitioning older encryption into these new standards. To ensure a safe and successful migration, NIST, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and The White House have developed an effective plan to combat quantum computers. Now it is up to financial institutions across the country to become aware of this threat, explore potential solutions, and create implementation plans in preparation for what's ahead.

The Quantum Threat to Financial Data

The quantum industry has seen a surge of interest worldwide, sparking billions of dollars in investment. China has spent at least $15 billion to develop quantum computing and quantum communications which are equivalent to the investment made by all other countries combined. In recent years, advancements within this field have been growing exponentially with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Consequently, over the past year, researchers with new quantum methods have factored increasingly large prime numbers. The known advancement in quantum computing hardware and lower resource requirements of creative algorithms are indicating a trajectory of RSA being compromised by the end of this decade. More critical though, the possible lack of awareness of secret adversarial government initiatives that could have reached somewhat higher capability through the focused development of a single-purpose quantum computer with the sole function to compromise our data has not been considered.

Financial services organizations must upgrade their encryption quickly, for a quantum attack from an enemy, should it occur, would be unexpected and indistinguishable from the classic computing assault. It is evident then that there is a great incentive to act now regarding security measures.

In addition to the other reasons for hastening quantum-resilient migration in financial services, there is a rising threat of "steal now, decrypt later" assaults on collected encrypted data. As quantum strategies and computers become more advanced, these attack campaigns will only grow in intensity. Financial institutions must take immediate action to prevent further losses and liabilities by transitioning to quantum resilience. If they do not act now, it could cause severe damage in the future.

Cryptograhic Agility is Key

Post-quantum cryptography (PQC) remains one of the most advanced and viable quantum security technologies. It doesn't draw from quantum principles but instead from complex encryption algorithms, including lattice-based encryption methods and other features intended to circumvent quantum algorithms’ ability to search and find patterns. In other words, the ideal standardized PQC is intended to provide an effective defense against any potential breach. As one of the top authorities in quantum-resistant cryptography, NIST launched its Post-Quantum Cryptography Standardization program in 2016. After evaluating more than 80 algorithms, they narrowed the selection to eight options for final testing. However as of this writing four post-quantum cryptography algorithms have been decrypted by classical means. This has led to the need to adapt to a possibly changing landscape of standardized algorithms and thus cryptographic agility, the ability to work with multiple standards.

Mitigation Plan to Keep Financial Data Secure into the Future

Heads of cybersecurity at financial institutions are already asking the right questions and having their teams investigate this new threat, its implications, and required actions. A straightforward strategy is to adopt a cryptographic agility approach with solutions that are easy to install, backward compatible, and able to leverage multiple changing algorithms. Evaluating these approaches is vital to quickly and cost-effectively unlock this new level of security.

To ensure a smooth transition to a quantum-resistant world, innovative PQC approaches are essential. Financial services organizations need practical cybersecurity solutions that can provide adequate protection without disrupting their existing systems. The best approach is all-inclusive; NIST-candidate post-quantum algorithms combined with end-to-end quantum resilient architectures and cryptographic agility will fortify the entire financial network against potential quantum threats. Plus, it lets you quickly modify your chosen post-quantum algorithms when needed! Financial firms should analyze possible quantum-resistant cryptography strategies and initiatives suggested by NIST and the Department of Homeland Security to rapidly transition and protect their customers’ confidential financial information.

Related Articles