Crypto-Agility Is Important, but It Can’t Protect You Against Quantum Attacks

Blog Post

Crypto-agility does allow you to respond more rapidly to failed algorithms. However, it doesn’t inherently provide any additional protection against threats. As quantum computers drive the migration to new crypto algorithms, many are justifiably taking advantage of the opportunity to simplify migration to the new algorithms. That said, it’s important to provide a little clarity on what crypto-agility enables you to do, and what it doesn’t.


In terms of its history, the need for crypto-agility arose as it became a mainstay for developers to integrate encryption into their applications and infrastructure. Ultimately, new encryption standards would replace broken or cracked ones, which meant developers had to spend significant effort and resources themselves to replace all instances of the old encryption methods with the new.


So, the concept of crypto-agility emerged as a way to simplify and streamline that development effort. It’s been described as a design best practice for the information security aspects of application and infrastructure frameworks. The goal of those frameworks is to be able to support multiple cryptographic primitives and algorithms simultaneously, while enabling new ones to be easily swapped in when something breaks.


In practice, it requires inventorying all the places you use encryption and rearchitecting the design in such a way that you isolate encryption into a few easily identifiable areas instead of scattered throughout the system. So, if your framework uses one particular standard today that fails tomorrow, it can be rapidly replaced without significant disruptions to the overall infrastructure. When implemented properly there can be significant benefits, and the easier and more automated that process can be, the greater its crypto-agility. Though it should be noted, that if implementations aren’t executed properly, they can introduce weaknesses, such as being subject to downgrade attacks.


As the serious and urgent nature of quantum attacks has become an overwhelming reality on organizations’ radars, the cry for greater crypto-agility has grown louder. Recognizing that its recently announced post-quantum cryptography (PQC) finalists will have a high probability of failing under full-scale, intense scrutiny from organized cyber criminals and nation states, even NIST has joined the cry for greater crypto-agility. And so they should, because crypto-agility arms organizations with the development methodology needed to plug in new and better security technology into their infrastructure or applications faster and with greater ease.


Still, too many make the mistake of thinking of or relying on crypto-agility as a security measure. It’s not. While properly implemented crypto-agility is a best practice in terms of security infrastructure and application development, it won’t safeguard existing data that has been encrypted with a failed algorithm. The nature of quantum risk itself provides context to this fact.


Too many think of quantum risk as a malicious threat for the future when quantum computers become powerful enough to crack today’s algorithms. But the threat isn’t looming. It’s already here. Nation states and bad actors have been and continue to harvest encrypted data with the expectation that someday the data’s protective algorithms will fail and unfetter the access to the data itself.


The peril is that whether you rely on a NIST finalist or some other PQC algorithm to encrypt your data, once that algorithm fails, any of that treasure trove of data that has been harvested by bad actors over the years will be immediately exposed and vulnerable. Being able to quickly migrate to a new algorithm isn’t going to change that.


In talking about this threat, FBI Director, Christopher Wray, stated, “The biggest threat we face as a country from a counter-intelligence perspective is from the People’s Republic of China… They are targeting our innovation, our trade secrets, our intellectual property on a scale that’s unprecedented in history. They have a bigger hacking program than that of every other major nation combined. They have stolen more of Americans’ personal and corporate data than every nation combined.”[i]


Russia is also considered a threat, as shown with its July 2022 hack of the border gateway protocol (BGP), which allowed it to redirect 12 hours of Apple customer network traffic to Russia’s state-owned telecommunications company. It’s easily conceivable that any user of these services during this time has had their data stored, albeit using today’s encryption technology. This isn’t the first time Russia had used a BGP hack to send traffic to its own servers. In 2017, it diverted traffic from Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. China has also used BGP to send traffic its way.[ii] Any of these instances add to the stockpile of data that can later be decrypted.


So, if crypto-agility isn’t a protective measure against the harvest now, decrypt later threat, what is? While every organization’s security needs are unique, the best response is to employ multiple measures and techniques to harden and layer your security according to your specific use cases.


However, one vital measure is to take encryption key transmission completely out of the equation. This immediately eliminates one of the biggest vulnerabilities—interception of encryption keys. Qrypt Quantum Key Generation enables you to do exactly that. It creates independent and completely random symmetric keys and one-time pads at multiple endpoints by securely orchestrating identical key agreement between parties. Plus, it does it in a quantum secure and viable way, unlike quantum key distribution solutions that depend on dedicated fiber lines or satellites.


Another far-reaching technique is to enlist the properties of “perfect secrecy” and one-time pads, as defined in Claude Shannon’s work, which have been mathematically proven to be unbreakable. But for many years, one-time pads haven’t been considered feasible. This is due to their requirement of having a key equal in size to the data. However, Qrypt has pioneered a way to make one-time pads viable, while also removing the need for key transmission.


Today’s lower data transmission and data storage costs play a large part in making one-time pads more feasible. But it’s Qrypt’s quantum random number generator (QRNG) cloud that does the rest of the work. As a result, Qrypt can help you achieve what Shannon referred to as perfect security. Our Quantum Security as a Service solutions provide independently generated one-time pads at multiple endpoints, secure proxies, trusted quantum random numbers, and the elimination of key transmission. So, no matter how much of your data gets harvested by bad actors or nation states, they’ll never be able to exploit it.


If your development infrastructure isn’t crypto-agile yet, that’s okay. Qrypt makes it easy to take advantage of our unbreakable one-time pads to help protect against today’s harvest now, and decrypt later attacks. And if you’re already crypto-agile, plugging in Qrypt Quantum Security is even easier. You no longer have to worry about the cost and effort of switching out failed algorithms. You’ll be able to focus on your core business objectives with no more worries about quantum risk.


Your data is one of your organizations most critical assets. Even if you’re using one of NIST’s PQC finalist to protect it today, just like SIKE recently failed, your algorithm of choice will likely fail too. When that happens, be sure that you’ve made the architectural choices needed to protect your data. Contact us today to discover the different ways we can help your crypto-agility efforts and, more importantly, get you quantum secure today.


[i] Scott Pelley, “FBI Director Christopher Wray on foreign cyberattacks, domestic terrorism and attacks on law enforcement,” CBS News 60-minutes, April 4, 2022. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fbi-director-christopher-wray-60-minutes-2022-04-24/

[ii] https://cybernews.com/security/data-router-hijacking-why-would-russia-redirect-apples-traffic/