alphaspirit - Fotolia

QLabs gives hope to Australia’s data security shortcomings

Australia might be ranked low for its computer security preparedness today, but there is enough innovation in the country to point to a more secure future

A report by network security business Tenable has given Australia an uninspiring D+ for its overall computer security preparedness, but local innovations promise better grades in the future.

The Tenable Global Cybersecurity Assurance Report Card suggests Australia is the least well prepared of a series of nations, including the US, UK, Canada, Singapore and Germany.

Tenable analysed the ability for enterprises to assess security risks across 10 components of IT infrastructure in its global security assessment index, which measures their ability to mitigate threats.

It then combined them into an overall measure. The global average was 76%; Australia scored 69%.

But there is hope for a nation that boasts a strong data security innovation network. For example, Australia’s Quintessence Labs (QLabs) was named one of the world’s top emerging innovators by the global Security Innovation Network, a body which includes the US Department of Homeland Security and the UK’s Home Office.

Working on “unbreakable” computer security, QLabs has harnessed quantum physics effects to encrypt data being transmitted, stored or used. In June 2015, the company received a big thumbs-up from one of the country’s big four banks, Westpac, which took an 11% stake in it (with an option to increase that to 16%), a seat on the board and started using the technology.

But QLabs could hold the keys to much more effective mitigation. Its founder and CEO, Vikram Sharma, had previously been a researcher at the Australian National University. He established QLabs in 2008.

“We draw on the unique capabilities from the quantum level and conventional software capabilities,” said Sharma. “To do good encryption you need good random numbers. We have the world’s fastest random number generator, which can produce one billion per second, which are generated by leveraging the quantum noise effect,” he said.

QLabs has developed software that allows those random numbers to be turned into encryption keys. To transport data between two locations the company imprints the random numbers onto lasers and then transports them over optical fibre.

Read more about enterprise data security in Australia

Any attempts to intercept the data are obvious at the quantum level, and the system automatically changes the codes. “Even if you break in, the data they have is encrypted. If malware is inserted and leaking data, then it will still be encrypted,” said Sharma.

The company has also developed technology to protect information collected and stored on drones, so that if a defence drone was captured by the enemy its data could not be accessed.

QLabs remains focused on sales to government and defence organisations, banks and financial services – which all inhabit the sharp end of computer security.

Many of the banks have also begun exploring blockchain technologies – which form the technical underpinnings of virtual currencies such as bitcoin – to protect information.

Both Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank announced in 2015 that they were involved in trials with Ripple Labs to use a blockchain-style platform to securely transmit payments and related information.

Meanwhile, Commbank and the National Australia Bank have also joined the global R3 consortium, which is exploring how blockchain technology might be harnessed by financial institutions in the future. Westpac is keeping its eye on blockchain progress through Coinbase, which its innovation capital offshoot Reinventure has invested in.

QLabs’ Sharma said it was not a case of either quantum security or blockchain: “They can be very complementary – you could have the keys in the blockchain created out of quantum and then stored securely.”

Read more on IT risk management