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Bank of International Settlement sets up channel secure from quantum breach

The Bank of International Settlement has worked with two of Europe's central banks to explore preventing the security risks posed by quantum computers

The Bank of International Settlement (BIS) and two of Europe’s central banks have established a channel that can protect financial data from the risks that quantum computers might pose in the future.

The BIS Innovation Hub Eurosystem Centre worked with the French and German central banks’ initiative Project Leap to design a channel that will protect cryptographic algorithms, which protect sensitive financial data from being penetrated by powerful quantum computers.

Quantum computers, if practical, would mark a leap forward in computing capability far greater than that from the abacus to a modern computer and will be capable of breaking cryptographic encryption currently used to secure financial data.

Much of today’s modern cryptography is based on mathematical algorithms used to encrypt data. With quantum computers, attacks on encryption methods that would normally take years could be theoretically done in days with quantum computers. Asymmetric and symmetric encryption types could both be at risk.

According to BIS: “This is one of the most significant cyber security threats facing the financial system today, potentially exposing all transactions and much of our existing stored financial data to attack.”

BIS and the central banks that took part in the project, Banque de France and Deutsche Bundesbank, have designed a secure communication channel designed to protect financial data against future threats from quantum computers which, according to BIS, “paves the way for the partners to build a complete chain of trust for central bank applications, acting as a blueprint for the financial system”.

The BIS hub is now investigating how to update and replace the cryptographic security algorithms that the financial system is critically reliant on. 

Raphael Auer, who heads up the centre, said: “Project Leap makes an important contribution to mitigating the threat posed by quantum computers to the confidentiality of financial data and the stability and integrity of the global financial system.

“While we do not know exactly when quantum computers will be strong enough to crack today’s encryption, central banks need to prepare themselves. Project Leap is a blueprint for how they can do so.”

The Leap project transmitted test payment messages via a quantum-resistant virtual private network tunnel between servers located in Paris and Frankfurt to demonstrate how critical financial data can be protected. 

Much of the discourse around quantum computing is about the opportunities it presents in areas such as electric cars, supply chain optimisation and chemical research. But people are concerned about the impact quantum computing will have on cryptography and whether modern encryption methods will still be sufficient to protect data. While this threat is years away, security teams should be familiar with it and collaborate to adapt for the future.

The Leap report has now been published and can help to guide the global transition towards new cryptographic protocols. 

Read more about quantum computing in the finance sector

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