ETSI proposes ways to protect VPNs from quantum attacks

quantum VPN etsi
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ETSI’s Technical Committee Cyber Security (TC Cyber) has published a technical report exploring the protocol requirements necessary to add quantum resistance to VPN technologies, including client, server and architectural considerations.

The report on quantum-safe VPNs – developed by the TC CYBER Quantum-Safe Cryptography working group – specifically looks at requirements around protocols and key establishment based on the multitude of systems that are at risk and require security updates before quantum computers are developed that can attack commercial cryptography.

The report concludes that the transition will be extremely complex and organizations should start migration planning early in order to minimize costs and disruption to their business.

“ETSI has been working on quantum-safe cryptography for more than three years now to offer the market efficient and timely solutions for the future,” says Mark Pecen, chair of the Quantum-Safe Cryptography working group.

Because of recent advances, the quantum computer presents a serious challenge to widely used current cryptographic techniques and assumptions. This is due to the fact that quantum computers excel at certain classes of mathematical problems that underpin many widely used cryptographic techniques. These include the RSA cryptographic system and Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC), both of which are common public-key techniques that are used to secure much of the interchange of information over the Internet.

The deployment of VPNs is a common choice for governments and enterprises to securely communicate between their sites or to connect employees with offices. VPNs are likely to be vulnerable to compromise by quantum computers in the future. Moreover, the report says, data transmitted today with longer-term confidentiality requirements is also at risk from harvesting and decryption at a future date. Consequently, a hybrid approach to security, combining quantum safe and classic key establishment techniques is recommended.

The report considers general VPN requirements, in particular the need to maintain the properties offered by existing classical handshakes while adding protection from quantum computers. While quantum computing threatens both confidentiality and authentication, the report focuses on the confidentiality aspect, as this is considered a higher priority risk due to the immediate threat of an attack that harvests data now for decryption at a later date.

The report looks in turn at the underlying security protocols by which a VPN achieves cryptographic security. These include Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) and Internet Key Exchange (IKE); Transport Layer Security (TLS); Media Access Control Security (MACsec); and Secure Shell (SSH). It discusses the background, hybrid requirements and solutions, and direct drop-in requirements for each protocol.

The ETSI ‘Technical Report on Quantum-Safe Virtual Private Networks’ can be downloaded here [PDF].

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