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Securing Connected Objects with Quantum Mechanics - By : Ghyslain Gagnon, Frederic Nabki, Bertrand Reulet,

Securing Connected Objects with Quantum Mechanics


Ghyslain Gagnon
Ghyslain Gagnon Author profile
Ghyslain Gagnon is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at ÉTS. His research focuses on signal processing, machine learning and microelectronics.

Frederic Nabki
Frederic Nabki Author profile
Frédéric Nabki is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at ÉTS. His research interests include energy recovery microsystems, integrated sensors and actuators. He is one of the founders of SPARK Microsystems.

Bertrand Reulet
Bertrand Reulet Author profile
Bertrand Reulet is a professor in the Department of Physics at the Faculty of Science of the Université de Sherbrooke and holds the Canada Research Chair in Quantum Microwave Radiation.

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With the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, and the numerous applications that are being developed, connected objects are multiplying exponentially, providing an abundance of targets to hackers looking for vulnerabilities. In this era of data valorization, securing communications is an increasingly critical issue. It is estimated that nearly half of all cyber-attacks are state-sponsored for geopolitical reasons. 

For their protection, data and communications within a system must be encrypted using a key generator that provides a random bit stream. But generating bits in a truly random fashion is more complicated than it sounds, because computers obey a set of deterministic rules. A bit stream generated from seemingly random algorithms can be repeated once the sequence is completed, making it easier to decode. Case in point, in 1994, this type of pseudo-random generator allowed a man playing Keno at the Montreal Casino to win $600,000. 

A Signal Impossible to Predict Thanks to Quantum Mechanics

A technology developed and patented by Quantum e-Motion Inc. generates a random bit stream from a quantum signal whose output is impossible to predict. Moreover, thanks to special techniques and algorithms, this system quickly detects any attempt to corrupt the signal. The technology is based on the tunnel effect between two conductors. 

In classical mechanics, charges are repelled by the barrier, but the quantum effect allows some charges to travel from one conductor to another by passing through the barrier. This movement is intrinsically random and can be measured by the current crossing the barrier or the potential difference. The generated signal can be amplified, filtered, and used to generate numbers in a truly random way. Moreover, varying the polarization makes it possible to detect external attacks.

The quantum tunnelling barrier—which can take the form of an electrical insulator sandwiched between two conductors—is relatively easy to build using standard microfabrication processes. Researchers at the Université de Sherbrooke produced some using controlled deposition and oxidation methods. The barriers were tested by integrating them into printed circuit boards that include commercial low-noise amplifiers. 

Integration of the Key Generator on a Standard Chip

Researchers at ÉTS and the Université de Sherbrooke are now taking this concept a step further. They are working on integrating the tunnelling generator on a standard chip (CMOS). The resulting encryption key generator could easily be integrated into common connected objects, offering a much more secure and low-cost device.

Ghyslain Gagnon

Author's profile

Ghyslain Gagnon is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at ÉTS. His research focuses on signal processing, machine learning and microelectronics.

Program : Electrical Engineering 

Research laboratories : LACIME – Communications and Microelectronic Integration Laboratory 

Author profile

Frederic Nabki

Author's profile

Frédéric Nabki is a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at ÉTS. His research interests include energy recovery microsystems, integrated sensors and actuators. He is one of the founders of SPARK Microsystems.

Program : Electrical Engineering 

Research laboratories : LACIME – Communications and Microelectronic Integration Laboratory 

Author profile

Bertrand Reulet

Author's profile

Bertrand Reulet is a professor in the Department of Physics at the Faculty of Science of the Université de Sherbrooke and holds the Canada Research Chair in Quantum Microwave Radiation.

Program : Electrical Engineering 

Author profile


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