The future of encryption: Getting ready for the quantum computer attack


PQShield, a spin-out from the UK’s Oxford University, is developing advanced cryptographic solutions for hardware, software and communications to protect businesses’ data from the quantum threat.

The development of quantum computers poses a cybersecurity problem such as the IT industry has never seen before. All stored data currently deemed secure by modern standards – whether that’s health records, financial data, customer databases and even critical government infrastructure – could, in theory, be cracked by quantum computers, which are capable of effectively short circuiting the encryption we’ve used to protect that data until now.

Efforts to protect our data from the quantum threat are underway, though whether the issue is being looked at with the urgency it deserves is up for debate. PQShield, a post-quantum cryptography startup spun out of Oxford University, perceives a disconnect between the scale of the threat and the current cyber-readiness of most businesses in 2020, which it is now trying to address.

Quantum computing: Myths v. Realities


“The scale of the quantum attack is just too big to imagine,” Dr. Ali Kaafarani, research fellow at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute and founder of PQShield, tells TechRepublic.

“The most important part of what we’re doing is to educate the market.”

Kaafarani is a former engineer at Hewlett-Packard Labs and leads a team of 10 full-time quantum cryptographers, from what he estimates to be a worldwide pool of just a hundred or so. The company is busy working on the development of
quantum-secure cryptography

– encryption solutions for hardware, software and communications that will secure information from future risk, yet can be implemented using today’s technology.

This comprises a system on chip (SoC) and software development kit that allow companies to create secure messaging applications, protected by a “post-quantum” variant of the Signal cryptographic protocol. Central to PQShield’s technology is that it is designed to work with both legacy systems as well as those expected in the years to come, meaning it could offer protection for everything from keyless cars and other connected devices, to data moving to and from cloud servers.

This, Kaafarani explains, is important owing to the fact that post-quantum cryptography cannot be retrospectively implemented – meanwhile data encrypted by modern standards remains open to post-quantum threats. “What we’re using right now as end-to-end encryption…is secure now, but people can intercept them and steal encrypted data,” he says.

“Once they have access to a quantum computer, they can decrypt them, so confidentiality is threatened in retrospect, because whatever is considered confidential now can be decrypted later on.”

Kaafarani also perceives an issue with the current attitudes to remediating cyberattacks, which he likens to applying a band-aid to a repeating problem. 

SEE: SSL Certificate Best Practices Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

“That’s why we started PQShield – to fill in this gap, to lead the way to a smooth and secure transition to the quantum era. There is a real opportunity here to get things right from the beginning.”

The startup recently completed a £5.5m funding round led by VC Firm Kindred Capital and has now secured German engineering company Bosch as its first OEM customer. While the exact details of the deal are still under wraps, Kaafarani says the deal is indicative of the threats businesses are beginning to identify as the age of quantum computing approaches.

“Their hardware may be built to last, but right now, their security isn’t,” he says.

“If you’re designing a car that’s going to go on the roads in the next three years, if you’re doing security by design, you should be thinking of the next security standards: not the standards that are valid now, but the standards that will be valid in the next five, 10, 15 years,” he says.

“Future-proofing is an imperative, just as it is for the banks and agencies that hold so much of our sensitive data.” 

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Future of 5G: Projections, rollouts, use cases, and more (free PDF)


Whether users realize it or not, 5G will change their lives with its promise of low latency and high bandwidth.

The number of active 5G connections around the world hit 63.6 million as of the first quarter of 2020, a jump of 308% from the last quarter of 2019, according to data from research firm Omdia. Globally, the number of 5G connections are projected to reach 238 million by the end of 2020, with North America accounting for 10 million of them.

According to Gartner, the market for 5G infrastructure is expected to hit $4.2 billion this year.

This free PDF ebook from TechRepublic reports on 5G’s impact with content detailing 5G use cases, rollouts, and what industries will benefit most from the technology.

In the ebook:

  • Report: The hype around 5G should be taken seriously
  • 5G rollouts grow amid COVID-19 crisis
  • 5G projected to surpass 190M subscriptions globally by end of 2020
  • How 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will spearhead the future of remote work
  • Manufacturing may take the lead with 5G expansion as consumer rollout slows
  • Verizon’s 5G build acceleration continues
  • Verizon develops 5G-enabled EMS solutions with its fourth First Responder Lab
  • Nokia: Top 5G use cases for the enterprise and consumers
  • Ericsson launches standalone 5G on existing hardware with a single software update
  • The 15 best cities for 5G worldwide
  • And more!

Why the gym of the future is your living room


Sweat tech: Tonal CEO Aly Orady explains why big data and AI are the pedals that power the future of fitness.

Dan Patterson, senior producer for CNET and CBS News, spoke with Aly Orady, CEO of Tonal. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Aly Orady: The first thing you get by using connected fitness equipment is the convenience of having it in your home. But, it turns out that simply having equipment in your home isn’t enough. People need motivation, they need guidance, especially with something like strength training, which takes a little bit more expertise to do well–you need the guidance of a personal trainer.

Connected equipment can give you all of these benefits, convenience, motivation, guidance, instruction, all in one place, all in the comfort and convenience of your home. Tonal is a digital strength training machine for the home that uses electricity to generate force instead of big metal plates and gravity. Traditional weights use large plates, which take up a lot of space and you need a paper and pencil to keep track of your workouts and know what to do.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Computer Research Scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

With a digital strength training machine like Tonal, you can have a 24-inch screen with onscreen coaches that guide you through your workout. Artificial intelligence (AI) that can track everything that you do, analyze it, and decide what you’re going to do next, so you end up getting a much better workout, in a shorter amount of time, in the convenience of your home.

We have an immense amount of data and measurement going on in real-time. Tonal is able to measure how you’re doing with every single repetition and automatically adjust the amount of weight for you. If you are working out at the gym, you are normally guessing how much weight you should lift–even a personal trainer is eyeballing it. But, with precise data measurement, we can measure the quality of every single repetition, decide how much weight you should lift, and adjust your weight in one pound increments when you’re ready to progress to the next level.

This is all based on a wealth of data that is not only based on you, but based on an entire community of users. Tonal has now amassed the largest strength training physiology data set in history. And we use that to train our AI.

Dan Patterson: That health data is incredibly powerful, especially for building a healthier lifestyle, but it’s also incredibly personal. How do you secure or lock down my health and fitness data?

Aly Orady: Well, every single person’s data is encrypted and locked secure to their own account, but then we take anonymized data and use that to train our AI and teach it how to make smarter decisions about how people should lift weight, how much weight they should lift and when they should increase.

We use a wide variety of neural network and statistical techniques to train our algorithms. It’s really based on looking at cutting across our community and seeing how people are progressing. Of course, our AI goes beyond just weight selection. We have a lot of logic that adjusts how much instruction people should receive. It gives them real-time feedback on their form, on how they’re behaving, adjusts the pacing of the workout to the individual user. There’s actually a lot going on under the hood. And it’s not just one technique it’s a variety of them combined.

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Image: TechRepublic

The Future of Farming: Building an agtech center in the heart of the Bluegrass


The cost of technologies involved in indoor agriculture have dropped in recent years, setting this stage for a new type of industry in the middle of Appalachia.


IMAGE: iStock/kynny

Last month, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed an international agreement involving 17 organizations, planting the seeds for a future of the agtech industry in the heart of the Bluegrass State. One of the organizations is the startup AppHarvest, which is building North America’s largest greenhouse in Eastern Kentucky. The ambitious plan unites a vast spectrum of public and private organizations, including a host of US and Dutch agtech companies, as well as the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture.

Needless to say, if a project aims to build a new agtech capital in the middle of Appalachia the Dutch certainly exist as a model of excellence in the industry. The small European country has long-since been heralded as a pioneer in innovative agriculture. During World War II, the Dutch endured massive food shortages and in the ensuing decades has become a global leader in sustainable agriculture and agtech solutions. Today, the Netherlands is the world’s second-largest agricultural exporter.

A fragile global supply chain

Overall, this signing represents a unified international partnership at a time when the warts of globalization are particularly apparent because of the coronavirus pandemic. Due to market disruptions, US producers have been forced to bury crops, plow edible produce into fields, and dump millions of gallons of milk per diem. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the fragility of international supply chains, especially the US food supply.

“Produce imports from Mexico to the US have nearly tripled in the last 10 to 15 years. And we’ve become very vulnerable to the different disruptions taking place in the food supply,” said Jonathan Webb, founder and CEO of the agtech company AppHarvest, a participating organization.

AppHarvest’s sprawling 2.76-million-square-foot farm is scheduled to open in Morehead later this year. Webb sees bringing outdoor agriculture indoors as a critical step toward regional food security.

“We need to use controlled environments, and we need to do it closer to markets so that we’re not having to truck a food six, seven, eight days on a semi-truck, or fly it around the world, get it on our grocery store shelves,” Webb said.


A rendering of AppHarvest’s indoor farming facility in Eastern Kentucky. The farm is scheduled to open in Morehead later this year.

IMAGE: AppHarvest

Aside from globalization trends decades in the making, there are other factors adding another layer of fragility to global food markets. Shifting regional weather patterns related to climate change are also changing the farmability of critical agricultural areas. Webb listed off the checklist of rain-starved areas from memory.

“We’re growing all of our fruits and vegetables in areas of the country that are drying up. California, drying up. South Southwest of the US, drying up. Mexico, much of it [is] running out of water. This is where we grow our fruits and vegetables,” Webb said.

To reduce the resiliency to global supply chain disruptions and enable farmers to gain greater control over these climates in these environments, Webb sees the shift to indoor farming as a necessary transition for the industry as a whole.

“So the climate disruption that’s taking place, is really not going to give anybody a choice. We’re going to have to bring our fruit and vegetable production indoors, we’re going to have to use less water and less land, we’re going to have to do it to where we can control the environment year-round,” Webb said.

While some parts of the climate are seeing record droughts and heatwaves, others are conversely experiencing record rainfall totals, setting the stage for sustainable indoor agricultural opportunities in new areas.

“Kentucky had a record amount of rain in 2018, with the most rain in state history. So to be able to run our facilities completely on recycled rainwater, again, talk about resiliency. We are not reliant on aging infrastructure of cities or city water, we’re able to do this with completely recycled rainwater,” Webb said.

SEE: Hiring Kit: Computer Research Scientist (TechRepublic Premium)

Farming with logistics in mind

There are also logistical benefits behind choosing Eastern Kentucky as a new agricultural hub. In recent years a host of global corporations have built major hubs across Kentucky. Webb posits a series of rhetorical questions, illustrating the proximal considerations alongside recent moves by major players in the logistics industry.

“Why are these logistics centers here? Because we can get to three-quarters of the US in a day’s drive. So why is Amazon putting that Prime facility in Northern Kentucky? Because we can get to New York, Boston, D.C., all over [to] St. Louis, down to Atlanta, up to Detroit, you can get to all these markets in roughly a day,” Webb said.

The right tech at the right time

While location is certainly a major factor, timing is also crucial. At a certain point, the cost of a new technology drops enough to enable cost-effective implementation at scale. The once hefty price tags associated with wind, solar, and lithium batteries have decreased substantially enabling widespread adoption and investments in these sustainable technologies. Webb’s experience in other emerging markets translates well to the current agtech innovation climate.  

“I came from the energy world of building some of the largest solar projects in the US. And I’ve tried to equate controlled environment agriculture to really wind and solar, 10 to 15 years ago,” Webb said. “If you look at the renewable energy industry, the price of panels were plummeting. Prices were dropping while your efficiency’s going up. We’re seeing that happen with that indoor ag, and all the various components and technologies needed, that the price of the technologies are going down.”

Indoor agriculture requires large LED light arrays to enable year-round farming. In recent years, these costs of these necessary indoor agriculture technologies have also decreased, setting this stage for cost-effective implementation in a competitive market.

“The price of those lights are dropping, but you’re getting more micromoles out of the light, so we just hit a tipping point with a lot of the different technologies. If we’re going to be able to compete with cheap, outdoor, inefficient, and in many cases, dirty agriculture, then we’re going to [need to] be able to compete with that pricing,” Webb said.


AppHarvest’s 2.76-million-square-foot farm currently under construction in Morehead, Kentucky.

IMAGE: AppHarvest

SEE: Rural America is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Tech could help some patients see a way forward. (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

Shift the economy from coal to food

These massive investments and international partnerships are enabling the region to diversify its economy with an eye toward the future. Coal production has largely dominated the economics of Eastern Kentucky for decades. In recent years, massive reductions in coal production have decimated economies around the region.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, the number of people employed in the coast industry declined by nearly 22%, data released by Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. At the same time, coal employment in the state fell to its lowest levels since the 19th century; 1898 to be exact.

At the moment, the technology is there, the infrastructure is being built, and the timing is right for opportunity. A region historically rooted in the coal industry is paradoxically positioned to construct an economy based around sustainable agriculture.

“We can now pivot from energy over to food,” Webb said. “We can build these large systems, and we can be an area of the country that’s known for supplying produce through indoor sustainable farming.”

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