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How this quantum cybersecurity startup is enabling businesses to stay ahead of the curve


Wed, 04/24/2024 - 12:00


As quantum computing moves out of university physics department labs and into industrial R&D facilities, a Singaporean startup is building quantum-safe cryptography to protect organisations against future cyberattacks. 

The past two decades have seen quantum computing progress from a largely theoretical concept to a technology that may soon be commercially viable. Quantum computers will be able to leverage the principles of quantum mechanics to handle massive volumes of data and perform computations at incredibly high speeds – and the world is taking note. 

On the flip side, once this advanced technology becomes more accessible, it also brings new risks to the fore. Those include quantum computers disrupting existing data encryption methods and fundamentally reshaping our current digital security landscape.  

Enter Singapore quantum cybersecurity startup pQCee.  

Since launching in 2022, the startup has been designing and building products and services to help enterprises protect themselves against future quantum cybersecurity attacks. 

How pQCee’s technology works

While only a handful of organisations worldwide have access to a quantum computer, the reality of ‘Q-day’ – when the technology reaches the performance levels that would allow it to crack the encryption techniques underpinning our digital lives – is fast approaching.  

Co-founder and CEO of pQCee, Tan Teik Guan believes that could happen in as little as five to eight years.

pQCee’s co-founder and CEO, Tan Teik Guan and co-founder and CFO, Loh Chay Hiah. 

“Many cybersecurity applications today use what’s known as public-key cryptography. This deploys encryption algorithms such as RSA and ECC. But using a quantum computer, a hacker could quickly break such encryption and go on to impersonate your identity or look at your sensitive data.” Tan explains.  

pQCee applies novel techniques in post-quantum cryptography (PQC) to “wrap” the underlying algorithm in an extra layer of security to protect it from any quantum tampering. That’s in contrast to systems that deploy a method called quantum key distribution (QKD), which draws on quantum photonics to detect if there is an attacker present.  

“Implementation-wise, QKD projects typically involve organisations in large infrastructural changes to achieve quantum-safe data communications. But with a PQC application, you’re simply augmenting your system’s underlying algorithms, so the whole thing can be done with software. That makes it much more cost-effective and minimises disruption and compatibility issues,” says Tan. 

Drawing on research conducted as part of a PhD in cybersecurity, Tan developed pQCee’s cutting-edge proprietary Signature Pre-Image Proof (SPP) algorithm, which forms the basis for most of their quantum cybersecurity products. 

“A key benefit is that a company can ensure its documents are cryptographically protected locally without any need to submit them to pQCee’s servers. That boosts and preserves the documents’ privacy, safeguarding against vulnerabilities from a classical standpoint as well as in a post-quantum world,” he says.

To build a culture of constant innovation, the pQCee team has “Demo Fridays,” during which each teammate presents a side project related to quantum computing that they iteratively improve.

Testing cutting-edge software

In 2023, the fledgling company developed inoQulate, its first product, and piloted it with SGInnovate – one of the first institutional investors. The software application draws on pQCee’s SPP technology to add a layer of quantum authentication to any Adobe PDF document.  

“Like most organisations across sectors, SGInnovate is storing long-dated PDF documents and agreements that are important for safekeeping. These PDFs are likely encrypted with traditional methods, but if quantum hackers broke through and tampered with them, then SGInnovate could be exposed to serious liabilities,” Tan says.   

A critical danger here is that quantum attackers could ‘spoof’ a document – first altering it, then claiming it as the original. inoQulate works to protect PDFs against such tampering so they remain valid and legally enforceable in the future.  

When rolling out inoQulate, SGInnovate also had several business requirements – testing and implementation should not disrupt the organisation’s day-to-day operations, no additional IT resources should be required, and the software needed to be compatible with SGInnovate’s existing infrastructure.  

Accordingly, pQCee set up a ‘sandbox’ that ran within a private cloud at SGInnovate, allowing the in-house team to rigorously test the product over a four-month period. pQCee also designed inoQulate to run as a ‘background service,’ coming to life after office hours to connect to SGInnovate’s data repository, select relevant PDFs and ‘wrap’ them in the requisite quantum protective layer.  

“We also designed inoQulate to be super-easy to implement and deploy. It doesn’t require a trained quantum computing professional, and as it’s both interoperable and backwards compatible, it can be seamlessly integrated with any existing encryption system,” Tan reports. 

“Cybersecurity is not just about overhauling algorithms,” says Tong Hsien Hui, Head of Investments at SGInnovate, who was overseeing the pilot project with pQCee. “Standalone solutions must be easily integrated with the customer’s environment.  The pilot test was necessary to run through the whole installation and deployment process of inoQulate to identify areas that can be made more intuitive and where more user control might be required. The project has opened the door to other potential use cases.”  

Towards a quantum-safe future for all

Although it is still relatively early days for pQCee, Tan is optimistic about the next steps. The company raised USD$2.5 million in late 2022 in a funding round co-led by Wavemaker Partners and Seeds Capital. Other institutional investors include those in speciality areas of blockchain and wealth management, like Paragon Ventures I.  

“Teik Guan’s vision of a secure and viable quantum future resonates deeply with our investment principle,” says Tan Xinhui, General Partner of Private Markets at Paragon Ventures I, an early-stage sector agnostic venture fund. “His innovative solution not only saves time and money for users but also delivers substantial value, aligning with our focus on impactful and sustainable investments.”  

The funding from late 2022 will enable Tan and his team to explore new ways to apply the pQCee approach to protect the authenticity and integrity of data and transactions in healthcare and financial records, blockchains and digital identities, among other things.  

“In the wealth management industry, where client confidentiality and information security are paramount,” says Ms Tan, “the need for robust protection is clear. pQCee’s solutions could provide an essential layer of security, ensuring these critical documents are protected over their extended lifespan, thus safeguarding the clients’ interests and maintaining their trust.” 

Aside from developing their product lines, the team is also focused on deepening partnerships with industry practitioners in Singapore. “When engaging prospective customers, we’re finding a multifaceted approach works well,” Tan explains. “While we have the technology focus, our industry partners are equipped to clear up any misconceptions about quantum that a chief risk or financial officer may have.”   

“Being quantum-ready doesn’t only involve making your systems and data safe against quantum. It also means ensuring that your people and processes are upskilled and can adopt quantum technologies as part of everyday life. Helping with this is a vital part of pQCee’s vision.” 

Learn more about Singapore’s fast-growing Deep Tech community and the startups that SGInnovate supports.


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