A landmark interdisciplinary project focusing on the assurance of quantum random number generators has been awarded £2.8m from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Random number generators are essential to digital cryptographic keys, a vital part of the world’s cybersecurity infrastructure. The use of quantum random number generators is increasingly being explored to elevate the levels of security they provide, and help develop uncrackable cryptographic keys.

However, they face a challenge: in order for them to be reliable for use in security, they need to be truly random and unique, and there is currently no way to truly tell that quantum random number generators are truly patternless.

This project aims to change that, and is being undertaken by a laundry list of heavy-hitters from the quantum industry and academia, led by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

The industry partners are Cambridge Quantum Computing, Toshiba Europe Limited, KETS Quantum Security, ID Quantique, Quantum Dice and Nu Quantum, while the academic partners are the University of York and the University of Kent. The UK National Cybersecurity Centre will also be acting as an associate partner as an early pipeline to certification.

Quantum random number generators project “critical” for emerging technologies

The funding, which has been allocated by the government’s innovation agency Innovate UK as part of the Commercialising quantum technology: technology projects round one competition, follows £1.6m funding from the industrial partners in the project.

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It is hoped that the project will ultimately be a vital step towards the mainstream use of quantum security.

“The aim of this project is to bring together NPL measurement expertise with industrial and academic partners to develop an authoritative assessment process for improved random number generators based on quantum effects,” said Dr Rhys Lewis, head of NPL’s Quantum Metrology Institute.

“This is critical for creating a certification process which can provide confidence in the application of these new devices. This project is a great example of the test and evaluation capability which NPL is developing for a range of quantum technologies.”

It is also hoped that it will help cement the UK as a major player in the quantum space.

“The UK is ideally placed to emerge as a global leader in quantum technologies and at NPL our metrology is crucial in realising the benefits that quantum can offer,” said Dr Pete Thompson, NPL’s CEO.

“I am delighted that the expertise and knowledge of our quantum physicists will be contributing to all three ISCF calls (feasibility, collaborative R&D and technology), and across all five technical themes of computing (hardware and software), communications, sensors and timing, imaging and components.”

Read more: How the UK can lead the quantum revolution