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07 February 2023

Major project to advance encryption technology in the face of future threats receives European funding

Professor Martin Albrecht will develop algorithms to protect advanced data encryption against future quantum computers.

An image of computer code stretching out as far as the eye can see with a purple filter over it to represent the Informatics department

A major new research project aimed at developing technology for protecting data online in the face of advanced computing technology, will launch at King’s College London. Led by Professor Martin Albrecht, from the Department of Informatics, the project has been selected for £1.7 million in funding by the European Research Council (ERC).

The five-year project funded through an ERC Consolidator Grant will see the development of algorithms that protect information online against future technologies, where scientists predict quantum computers will be able to break current encryption methods. They will also provide security against threats from current computer technology, and will eventually replace the cryptographic algorithms used today.

Everything from WhatsApp messages to online video calls and information on national security is encrypted to protect privacy and secrecy against adversaries, from petty criminals to nation states.

However, the current encryption methods used would not be fit for purpose in the face of advanced computing methods through quantum computers.

It has been known for a while that if big enough quantum computers can be built, then the cryptographic algorithms that secure the internet and electronic communication more generally can be broken. In response to this threat, the cryptographic research community and standardisation bodies have launched standardisation processes to find replacements for these cryptographic algorithms – which is now close to completion.

Professor Albrecht

Martin’s research project entitled ‘Advanced Practical Post-Quantum Cryptography from Lattices’ will specifically develop such methods for use in more advanced settings, where there is currently a gap in the technology. He said:

“We are increasingly reliant on data sharing and data processing to do everything. From online banking to messaging services such as WhatsApp to online shopping, we’re constantly asked to supply our personal information. But our privacy can be protected through certain kinds of algorithms that only share key, minimal data, without revealing anything more.

“More advanced privacy respecting protocols allow you to prove you’re over the age of 18 without sharing your full ID. With WhatsApp, you don’t have to share your full address book with the app but can still find out if your friends are using it. Similarly, as central banks are exploring digital currencies, these pose major issues for civil liberties and privacy, some of which can be addressed using these more advanced cryptographic protocols.”

Currently we do not yet have the technology to make these advanced security protocols both efficient and secure also against the quantum computer threat, which is where Martin’s research comes in. He will manage a team of post-doctoral and PhD researchers to help build lattice-based cryptographic algorithms, which will enable advanced data protocols to be fully secured online in the face of quantum computers. Lattices are mathematical objects that are essentially repeated arrangements of points on a grid, and scientists believe cryptographic algorithms built from lattices are harder for quantum computers to break.

I am delighted to have secured an ERC grant to work in this vital area of research aimed at plugging the gap in solutions for post-quantum cryptography. There is a lot of exciting work to be done in this area and I am looking forward getting on with it, to ensure we can face security threats of the future.

Professor Albrecht

Congratulations to Martin for securing this important funding which is a recognition of his standing as a researcher in this area. Our ambition in the Department of Informatics is to create a world-leading post-quantum cryptography group. This award will enable Martin to accelerate the aims of this group and attract top emerging talent to the cause.

Professor Luc Moreau, Head of the Department of Informatics

European Research Council Consolidator Grants are part of the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme with the aim of supporting Principal Investigators to pursue cutting edge ideas in science. €657 million will fund 321 researchers across Europe as part of the award. Other King’s researchers who received the grant include Dr Katie Meehan from the School of Global Affairs, Dr Jordana Bell from the School of Life Course & Population Sciences, and Professor Ben Geiger from the Centre for Society & Mental Health

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Martin Albrecht

Chair of Cryptography