That’s it, our future electronic communications and transactions are secure. On July 5, the American government agency responsible for standardization, the NIST, after six years of evaluation, selected the best encryption and signature devices capable of resisting a danger that hovers over all our exchanges (e-mails , bank cards, web, mobiles, etc.). In short, everything that guarantees trust in the digital world.
This danger is the quantum computer, a machine that does not yet exist in its most complete form, but which would be able to break current techniques for securing exchanges in a shorter time. This is based on the idea that it is easy to close a padlock but not to open it, which in this case reflects the fact that certain mathematical operations are easy to perform in one direction but not in the other. . We can thus easily multiply two large prime numbers together, but conversely, if we have their product, it is very difficult to find them. Except for a quantum computer, which calculates differently and which it has been proven could, in theory, run algorithms reversing these operations easily and therefore reveal the precious secrets.
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Hence the call for help launched by the NIST in February 2016 to the best researchers in the world: find mathematical operations that resist the quantum computer and use them to make encryption protocols (to scramble a message) , and signature (to authenticate a person or a document).
In December 2017, 69 proposals were selected. Then 26, in January 2019, and 7, in July 2020 (with 8 other backup solutions), after the teams had “attacked” each other to flush out flaws. Two years later, and six months behind schedule, there are only four left: one for encryption, Crystals-Kyber, and three for signing, Crystals-Dilithium, Falcon and Sphincs+. Three out of four have French researchers among the ten members who designed them. Four other proposals, for encryption, are entitled to a repechage.
“We are happy and relieved because it has been long and stressful. This gives us great international visibility”, indicates Léo Ducas, researcher at the CWI research center in Amsterdam and professor at the University of Leiden, present in the teams of two of these solutions, Crystals-Kyber and Crystals-Dilithium. “ It is a strong recognition of our workbelieves Damien Stehlé, professor at the ENS de Lyon, also a member of these two teams. The fact that several co-authors of the selected algorithms have worked in labs in France shows that we have academic strengths. But also that we are not always able to keep them, several having left the national laboratories. »
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