(Source – Shutterstock)

Steps toward Southeast Asia’s first quantum-safe networks

  • IMDA’s NQSN+ advances Singapore’s quantum-safe vision for the next decade.
  • IMDA partners with NQSN to co-lead QKD protocol standardization at the ITU with Japan.

The transition to quantum-safe networks requires careful planning and coordination. It invovles evaluating the security vulnerabilities of existing systems, selecting suitable post-quantum algorithms, and updating network infrastructure and protocols.

Quantum computing is still in the early stages but organizations must proactively prepare for the post-quantum era by exploring quantum-safe solutions. Embracing quantum-safe networks enables them to future-proof their systems and ensure long-term security for sensitive data and communications.

During the ATxSummit Social event, part of Asia Tech x Singapore (ATxSG), Singapore’s deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat unveiled the National Quantum-Safe Network Plus (NQSN+), an initiative aimed at establishing quantum-safe communications throughout Singapore and accelerating progress in the region.

The complexity of transitioning to quantum-safe networks

The launch of NQSN+ is a crucial element of Singapore’s Digital Connectivity Blueprint, introduced by Singapore’s minister for communications and information Josephine Teo, on June 5, 2023, prior to ATxSG. This blueprint outlines Singapore’s digital connectivity goals until 2030 and emphasizes the Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) focus on enhancing the resilience and security of businesses in the digital economy through initiatives like NQSN+.

Quantum computers are poised to revolutionize various industries and drive innovation through unprecedented advancements in computing power, simulation, and optimization. However, the emergence of quantum computers brings security risks as they have the potential to break encryption algorithms relied upon today. Adopting quantum-safe technologies is crucial for safeguarding Singapore’s digital infrastructure and strengthening defenses against quantum attacks.

The National Quantum-Safe Network (NQSN), launched in 2022, serves as a vital foundation for Singapore’s journey toward quantum-safe networks. Building on more than a decade of quantum research by the Centre for Quantum Technologies (CQT), hosted by the National University of Singapore, NQSN conducted nationwide trials of quantum-safe communications technologies to enhance network security.

Collaborating with universities, companies, and government agencies, NQSN successfully demonstrated the technical feasibility of deploying quantum-safe technologies like Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). QKD protects against quantum computing risks by ensuring the secure transmission of keys, as any attempt to intercept them would disrupt the transmission and introduce errors.

The NQSN+ initiative enables critical information infrastructures such as hospitals and banks to utilize the quantum-safe system without the need to develop their own infrastructure. Additionally, the interoperability of telecommunications networks allows seamless communication for users, as stated by IMDA.

Securing Singapore’s digital connectivity

During the Asia Tech x Singapore conference, Heng emphasized the importance of quantum technologies and highlighted Singapore’s investment of over SG$250 million in quantum research since 2007.

As an initial step toward a quantum-safe Singapore, IMDA’s NQSN+ initiative assists network operators in deploying nationwide quantum-safe networks. This facilitates businesses’ access to solutions that protect their critical data. The implementation of NQSN+ involves a minimum of two network operators, each building an interconnected quantum-safe network capable of serving all businesses.

Organizations have the opportunity to collaborate with NQSN+ operators to integrate quantum-safe solutions and safeguard their vital data and information in the quantum age. IMDA is currently evaluating proposals from Singtel and a joint partnership between SPTel and SpeQtral.

Efforts to drive global standardization of quantum-safe technologies

Singapore actively collaborates with global leaders to promote interoperable quantum-safe networks. IMDA, in partnership with the NQSN team, leads global and local standardization efforts for quantum-safe technologies. In collaboration with Japan, Singapore co-leads the standardization of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) protocols at the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector.

The joint effort aims to establish global standards for quantum-safe technologies. Singapore has already published its first Reference Specification on QKD Networks at the domestic level, providing guidance to technology vendors and organizations interested in deploying QKD networks.

International connectivity plays a vital role in Singapore’s position in the global economy. Singapore aims to further strengthen its quantum initiatives by integrating the NQSN+ with quantum-safe networks in other cities. This will enable Singaporean enterprises to develop and deploy quantum-safe solutions across global markets.

As a preliminary step, IMDA has entered a memorandum of understanding with the National Information Society Agency of the Republic of Korea. This collaboration aims to foster cooperation in the field of quantum technologies and standardization efforts. The primary objective is to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience between network operators involved in the implementation of quantum-safe networks.

The journey toward quantum-safe networks is critical to securing Singapore’s digital connectivity and ensuring resilience against emerging quantum threats. By taking proactive measures, Singapore is positioning itself as a leader in quantum technology adoption and paving the way for a quantum-safe future. The collaboration between IMDA, NQSN+, and various stakeholders demonstrates Singapore’s commitment to driving innovation and safeguarding its digital infrastructure in the quantum age.