IBM puts NIST’s quantum-resistant crypto to work in Z16 mainframe

Big Blue says it helped developed the algos, so knows what it's doing

IBM has started offering quantum-resistant crypto – using the quantum-resistant crypto recommended by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Quantum computers are expected to be so powerful they’ll carve through conventional encryption, exposing secrets in seconds. China is felt to be stealing data today, safe in the knowledge its future quantum computers will be able to decrypt it in the near future. Other data, such as health information, is required to be kept for decades and the encryption used to protect it probably won’t survive the advent of quantum computers.

To prevent such scenarios and offer long-term data security, NIST in 2017 initiated a post-quantum crypto project to develop ciphers that can be used with classical computers and survive decryption attempts made with quantum computers.

As a result of those efforts, NIST selected two algorithms and two signature schemes as suitable to become standards.

IBM today revealed it had a hand in the development of three of the four algorithms chosen by NIST, “along with partners from industry and academia.”

Big Blue also revealed that the Z16 mainframe it unveiled in April 2021 can use the CRYSTALS-Kyber and CRYSTALS-Dilithium algorithms approved by NIST to create quantum-resistant digital signatures.

To do so, the mainframe needs to include the Crypto Express 8S card, a device that IBM proclaimed was ready for post-quantum crypto because it employs lattice-based cryptography.

News that IBM contributed to the NIST-approved algos, which use lattice-based cryptography, suggests Big Blue’s claim the Z16 was read for post-quantum crypto was no mere puffery.

However IBM arrived at its April assertions, it’s now made them real and given all of us the chance to protect data more robustly than was previously possible which is surely welcome. And will be more welcome still once the same offering reaches more common and gently-priced machines than the Z16. ®

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