What is Quantum Key Distribution?
But what is this technology and how does it work?
One of the fundamental building blocks of encryption is key distribution. This allows cryptographic keys to go from one party to another (or vice versa) for encryption and sharing in a secure fashion.
The basis of current systems (public-key cryptography) in securing key exchanges is good, old-fashioned mathematics. Unfortunately, these can be compromised by advances in technology such as better computational processing power, more modern hacking methods and weak random numbers.
And this scenario is only set to get worse with the advent of fault-tolerant quantum computers.
Unlike traditional encryption methods, however, QKD leverages physics to pass on keys between two parties.
Any attempts to eavesdrop or even intercept the key will — due to the fundamental laws of quantum mechanics, where measuring the quantum system disturbs it, ultimately breaking it and deeming it unhackable — guarantee its security.
QKD is information-theoretic secure. This means that even with the unlimited processing power available, no black hat operators can break the protocol, deeming the QKD protocol is a secure system, even against quantum computers.
Let’s now look at ten of the companies exploring QKD to make the world a more secure place for our data. One more thing, this list is non-exhaustive – Toshiba is a notable omission and we haven’t covered the national QKD and networking intiatives. If you wish to see other players on the market, please sign up to our quantum market data platform, the leading provider of information, data, and insights on Quantum Technologies market around.
You can also check out our Quantum Security Market Report, available here. This explores the current state of the art and explains why many companies are currently more focused on Post Quantum Cryptography (PQC).
1. Laser Components
Günther Paul founded Laser Components in the West German town of Gröbenzell, back in 1982.
With headquarters in Olching, Germany, the company specializes in optoelectronic and fibre optical technologies though markets some of its products as being relevant for QKD.
2. ID Quantique
ID Quantique provides multiple quantum cryptography solutions for data protection, with a particular focus on QKD, Quantum Random Number Generators (QRNGs) and is also tracking with interest Post-quantum Cryptograghy (PQC) too.
ID Quantique is a Swiss company. Based in Geneva, Switzerland and founded in 2001 by Nicolas Gisin, Hugo Zbinden and current CEO and founder Grégoire Ribordy as a spinoff of the Group of Applied Physics at the University of Geneva, it is one of the oldest pure-play quantum companies in the world.
3. Ki3 Photonics Technologies
Ki3 Photonics Technologies is a spinoff company from the National Institute of Scientific research — Energy, Material, and Telecommunication (INRS — EMT). Based in Montreal, Canada, it was founded in 2015 by Yoann Jestin and Piotr Roztocki.
The company’s mission is to improve the accessibility of the QKD technique and it aims to lead the transformation of quantum photonics into an accessible mass technology and develop quantum tools inherently compatible with communications networks.
As well as developing technology in quantum photonics, Ki3 Photonics also offers hardware and security solutions to protect internal and external communication networks.
4. KETS Quantum Security
Building communications systems using quantum states of light allows dramatic performance advantages over conventional systems, KETS Quantum Security provides a number of technology offerings including on-chip QKD.
In 2018 KETS was named the UK’s Most Innovative Small Cyber Security Company at Infosecurity Europe and was a finalist in the Best Tech Startup category and the Business Leader Go: Tech Awards.
Based in Bristol, UK, KETS was founded in 2016 by Jake Kennard and Chris Erven.
5. Quantum Technologies Laboratories
Quantum Technologies Laboratories (qtlabs) develops designs and prototypes for the technical implementation of quantum encryption into its customers’ infrastructure, with a particular focus on Space and Terrestrial QKD.
The Vienna-based quantum communication and cryptography startup was founded in 2017 by Thomas Scheidl, Fabian Steinlechner, Sam L. Tschernitz, and Rupert Ursin.
6. QNu Labs
QNu Labs is developing technologies to make encryption future-proof. Along with products in QRNGs and Post-quantum cryptography, QNu Labs’ Armos QKD protects critical infrastructure unconditionally, providing quantum resilience to ensure data in transit is safe at all times.
Based in Bengaluru, India, the company was founded in 2018 by Sunil Gupta, Srinivasa Rao Aluri, Mark Mathias, and Anil Prabhakar.
7. Quintessence Labs
Quintessence Labs offers various QC security solutions. Its focus has been on QKD and it is expanding its suite of products around this.
Founded in 2008 by Vikram Sharma and with headquarters in Canberra, Australia, QuintessenceLabs’ QKD product, qOptica™ 100, uses lasers to encode the signal enables high throughputs, is compatible with current telecommunication technologies and the ability to use standard fibre connections allows for cost-effective systems, has the ability to use COTS components and integrated functionalities — allowing for reduced form-factor, power, weight and cost — and, finally, can operate unimpaired in daylight conditions, without any filtering.
LuxQuanta focuses on developing QKD systems and technologies and to distribute cryptographic keys between users with the highest level of security. The result is a technology capable of providing high-performance and cost-effective quantum cryptography solutions, easy to integrate into existing optical network infrastructures while capable of delivering a quantum-safe layer of security on top of traditional cryptographic techniques.
A spinoff founded in 2021 by Valerio Pruneri and Sebastian Etcheverry from ICFO, The Institute of Photonic Sciences (a world-leading research centre on photonics and quantum technologies) — where it was incubated for over four years — from its headquarters in Barcelona, LuxQuanta’s goal is QKD systems and technologies to be integrated into existing network infrastructures while capable of delivering a quantum-safe layer of security on top of mathematical cryptographic techniques.
QEYnet is a Toronto-based startup working on a microsatellite-enabled quantum key distribution network.
Founded in 2016 by spacecraft engineers and quantum communication experts who have built their careers designing low-cost, high-performance spacecraft and ultra-robust QKD technology, respectively, QEYnet is led by Dr. Thomas Jennewein from the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing.
With all this in place, then, the startup’s combined experience, network partnerships, licenses, and IP position offer first-to-market space-based QKD, using novel techniques, at a disruptive cost.
Last but not least we have ThinkQuantum, a spinoff of the University of Padua, Italy, founded in 2021 by Paolo Villoresi and Giuseppe Vallone.
Manufacturing QKD distribution platforms, as well as Random Number Generators, ThinkQuantum offers a reliable European supply network and covers the full value chain, from design and manufacturing to commissioning of QKD systems and QRNG devices. Its applications range from ICT and TLC networks, banks, insurance companies and data industries, to providers of security systems services demanding the highest security standards for multiple applications (Computation, Automotive, Professional & Consumer Electronics, etc.), as well as the New Space Economy.