There is a great story about the crew of a downed surveillance plane using an axe and coffee to ensure sensitive data from its electronics was unrecoverable. Needless to say, that technique was improvised and a last resort, and today, we have advanced virtual zeroization (VZ), which allows for the permanent protection of sensitive information on mobile assets.
One of the key breakthroughs we’ve had at QuintessenceLabs is our VZ, which uses unbreakable one-time pad (OTP) encryption enabled by a high-speed quantum random source and protects sensitive data on mobile assets in uncontrolled or hostile environments. In fact, we recently were awarded additional funds (AU$528,000) from the Australian Department of Defence to further develop our VZ and how we use the resilient OTP encryption method.
The story above happened on April 1, 2001, with a midair collision between a United States Navy EP-3E Aries reconnaissance aircraft and a People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fighter jet. The crew of the U.S. aircraft were forced to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island of Hainan. They carried out a plan to physically destroy the sensitive items they had onboard – electronic intelligence-gathering equipment, documents and data, and others. The crew had not been formally trained on how to properly destroy sensitive material, so they had to improvise using a fire axe and pouring freshly brewed hot coffee into disk drives and motherboards.
Virtual zeroization integrates quantum technology, flash memory, cryptography, and key management into a system that solves the real-world problems related to securing stored data that exists (perhaps only exists) in the most hostile environments imaginable. With QuintessenceLabs qProtect, sensitive recorded data is now effectively protected without the need for physical media destruction, secure media erasure, or logical erasure by destruction of protective cryptographic keys.
Think of body cameras from reconnaissance patrols in combat situations, the data stored on a surveillance drone, or a secure mobile device utilized in combat — all hold sensitive data that’s valuable to the enemy or other hostile entities if intercepted.
For these kinds of extra-sensitive situations, qProtect’s one-time pad encryption provides the following benefits:
- The only form of encryption mathematically proven to be unbreakable.
- Encrypted data, or cipher text, cannot be decrypted without a key, irrespective of the computing power available to the adversary.
- Data is protected now and, in the future, even from quantum computers.
With qProtect, we can deliver automatic key destruction, also known as zeroization:
- The one-time pad key is automatically destroyed from the storage device during encryption.
- This enables the full power of one-time pad encryption to be delivered without risk.
- An adversary who gains access to the data or device never has enough information to decrypt it.
As mobile devices and removable storage media are incorporated into key defense programs, advanced VZ is even more important.
[Illustration: Justin Renteria for The Intercept]