July 23, 2024
Quantum computer abstract detail

Malicious hacking is getting increasingly sophisticated, and that’s leading to a very clear trend in security technology. To keep people and organizations safe, security also has to continue improving. 

Security startup PQShield has gotten an early start on that concept with a focus on “post-quantum” cryptography: Software and hardware solutions that, in theory, are future-proofed, capable of withstanding even hacks that will one day be carried out using the most powerful quantum machines. 

Now, to meet industry demand to build hardware and related systems based on its work, the company has raised a further $37 million in funding. 

Addition, Lee Fixel’s investment firm, led this Series B, with other strategic and financial backers participating, including Chevron Technology Ventures, Legal & General and Braavos Capital (all new investors), as well as existing investor Oxford Science Enterprises. Addition also led PQShield’s Series A in 2022. The startup is not disclosing its valuation.

Dr. Ali El Kaafarani, a mathematician who founded the startup in Oxford, said the funding will be used to hire more talent and work more closely with its current and new customers and partners.

That list includes companies like AMD, Microchip Technologies, Collins Aerospace, Lattice Semiconductor, Sumitomo Electric, NTT Data and Mirise Technologies (Toyota / Denso R&D). The company also advises the White House, European Parliament, U.K. National Cyber Security Council and World Economic Forum. It also has worked with the biggest name in chips, Nvidia.

“We still have the highest density of cryptographers in the industry, in particular in the area of post-quantum cryptography,” he said in an interview. Added to that, there is an interesting development underway in terms of standardization that will also impact how the field evolves. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. has been working for a decade on the idea of establishing post-quantum cryptographic standards. Those are now expected to be announced in the coming months, Dr. El Kaafarani said. “In just two or three weeks, we very much expect NIST to publish the official standards after publishing the drafts last August.”

One thing to watch is the role companies like PQShield — and others in the space like Xiphera, Post-Quantum and Palo Alto Networks — adopt as technology and computing continue to evolve. It’s also worth keeping an eye on how major companies adopt more sophisticated encryption to safeguard users’ data at both the software and hardware layers. 

Today, a lot of popular discourse around encryption has centered around how it can be used to safeguard messaging platforms. Notably, PQShield also provides its technology pro bono to the Signal Foundation, and is, per Dr. El Kaafarani, “working on different research projects with them.” In the realm of enterprise, it is working on how encryption is used in security systems to safeguard data both within company networks and when it is transported or shared outside them. 

The next stage of that discourse is likely to be around how data is handled in AI environments, both where AI is used and in the training of models. And of course, how to safeguard data in a world where malicious hackers are using AI to break through all protections.

Apple, as one example, is taking a new approach to privacy with a new approach it calls Private Cloud Compute, which it says enables “private AI processing” by integrating private clouds more tightly with its custom on-device silicon. 

“AI will be yet another reason why we need to make sure that our cryptography is up to date,” Dr. El Kaafarani said. “I believe that whether it’s Apple or others, you will see that they will start immediately using post-quantum cryptography for AI because they will not go through the legacy cryptography and then have to change to the new standards.”

PQShield offers solutions in three formats, which takes it out of the realm of straight deep tech and into a more commercializable tooling. It offers a system on a chip that is designed to sit on hardware like smartcards or processors; a cryptographic SDK that can be integrated into mobile and server apps to process data or run security operations; and a toolkit designed specifically to secure messaging services. That’s likely one reason why investors like Addition are interested, especially at a moment when computing and chips appear to be evolving so rapidly. 

“PQShield has continued its trajectory as a pioneer and leading authority in post-quantum cryptography for hardware and software. As we approach the culmination of the NIST PQC project, we expect newly-ratified standards to catalyze the quantum security market and drive rapid adoption of PQC across the technology supply chain,” Fixel said in a statement. “Thanks to an industry-leading team with decades of combined experience, PQShield has established a best-in-class product offering that is already leading the field. We are excited to see the company build on its existing commercial success and protect our digital future.”

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