France well represented among the finalists nominated by the US NIST

Cock-a-doodle Doo! It is from the United States that on July 5, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) unveiled the first four algorithms selected to define the future standards of post-quantum cryptography. But France was particularly well represented, both among the teams designing the said algorithms and in the patents on which some winning solutions are based.

This competition was launched in 2016 by the technology standardization body affiliated with the US Department of Commerce to respond to the cryptologists’ biggest fear: quantum computers. In fact, asymmetric cryptography techniques – that is, with a private key and a public key – are used everywhere today to secure the digital services we use on a daily basis, such as banking transactions, website access or instant messaging encryption, but also the most critical services in states or armies, are dependent on factorization of large numbers. Since the mathematician Peter Shors’ discovery in 1994 of a quantum algorithm capable of factorizing any number, the threat from quantum computers is powerful enough to exploit this algorithm – and thus “break” the current cryptography of most systems – flat.

Four algorithms selected, four others still running

This risk would jeopardize the states’ most sensitive data, hence the interest in large countries such as the United States in this technology. NIST decided to trade even before quantum computers with height existed. The competition aims to update three cryptography standards to make them resistant to quantum computers – a field commonly referred to as post-quantum cryptography:

  • Electronic signature (FIPS 186-4)

  • Discrete Logarithmic Cryptography (SP 800-56A)

  • Integer factoring cryptography (SP 800-56B)

After six years, NIST went from 82 algorithms in the race to fifteen evaluated in the third round. At the end of this, the institute chose an algorithm in the category ” public key encryption, CRYSTALS-CYBERand three in the category “electronic signature”: CRYSTALS-Dilithium, FALCON and SPHINCS +. Four other algorithms are still under investigation for the “key exchange” category.

Keep marked by blue, white and red

In the teams that design the algorithms CRYSTALS-KYBER and CRYSTALS-Dilithium, we find in particular the French Tancrède Lepoint, cryptographer at Apple and researcher at the California center SRI International, and Damien Stehlé, teacher-researcher at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon. The FALCON algorithm was developed jointly by the French giant Thales with partners from academia and the industrial sector from France (Rennes 1 University, PQShield SAS), Switzerland (IBM), Canada (NCC Group) and the USA (Brown University), Qualcomm). . Within the team responsible for SPHINCS +, even appears the name of Jean-Philippe Aumasson, cryptographer specializing in protocols for blockchain technologies, consisting of Université Paris Cité and CY Cergy Paris Université, who in 2018 co-founded the Swiss start-up Taurus.

But that’s not all: two of the algorithms maintained by NIST, including CRYSTALS-KYBER, ” could be based on patent families filed in 2010 by teacher researchers Philippe Gaborit and Carlos Aguilar-Melchor (University of Limoges and CNRS Xlim laboratory), and jointly owned by CNRS and the University of Limoges “, says CNRS. If some of the designers of these algorithms dispute the applicability of these patents as they stand – Damien Stehlé wrote in particular an article about this with his colleague Vadim Lyubashevsky from IBM Research Europe – the French research organization claimed until the winter of 2021 NIST also appears to have folded since CNRS and the University of Limoges announced on July 6 that they had signed a licensing agreement with the US standardization body.Thanks to the latter, operators and end users of cryptographic standards derived from the selected PQC algorithms do not need to obtain a separate license for this CNRS patent family “, States the press release. Enough to make France one of the great players of the post-quantum era.

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