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Price and Distinction


Post-quantum cryptography : The Atos-Joseph Fourier Award recognises two researchers from PolSys

Two researchers from PolSys, a joint team between Inria, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Sorbonne University, have just won the prestigious Atos-Joseph Fourier Award for their work in the field of quantum computing. The objective: to find encryption solutions that can withstand the quantum computer.

The race to the quantum computer - which all of the digital technology giants have embarked on - is comparable to the 20th century's race to the Moon

enthuse Jean-Charles Faugère, Inria research director and head of the PolSys team and Ludovic Perret, lecturer at Sorbonne University and member of the PolSys team. Indeed, for organisations, mastering these machines - whose computing capacities are several million times greater than our current computers - is a guarantee of future hegemony.

A race is, however, also taking place concurrently to formulate post-quantum encryption standards.  Indeed, for these super-powerful machines, current public-key cryptography systems - which are used on the Web today - no longer offer any resistance. If no appropriate answer is proposed, secure online payments and exchanges will end. “We do not precisely know when the quantum computer will have the capacity, nonetheless it is clear that all states are gradually realising that they must organise themselves in order to establish post-quantum encryption standards”, Ludovic Perret explains.

An issue of national security  

The challenge for the coming years is to establish new standards, particularly on a European scale. This is the objective of Jean-Charles Faugère and Ludovic Perret, who have just won the Atos-Joseph Fourier Award for their work on quantum computing. “The United States are way ahead, they intend to adopt new standards as of 2020-2021, Jean-Charles Faugère explains.

Things are slower in France, however we have set the ball rolling.” In particular, the PolSys team is involved in an Investments for the Future (PIA) project which brings together around 15 of the sector's academic and industry stakeholders, as well as the National Cybersecurity Agency of France (ANSII), in order to prepare French industry for entry into the post-quantum world.  This prize therefore rewards work having a major societal impact: “it is recognition for our work and it is very important for us, because as researchers there are always highs and lows, especially when we want to propose concrete applications for our work. We are faced with stumbling blocks - regulatory, administrative, etc. This is a very valuable boost.” And, to win it, the researchers could rely on a key argument: they have managed to combine very theoretical expertise with very concrete application proposals.

From theory to start-up

For 15 years, the PolSys project team has specialised in the analysis of cryptographic system security using algebraic cryptanalysis. “We correlate all security problems to the solving of mathematical equations: we are experts in non-linear equations.” Their aim when the PolSys team was launched: to identify security breaches. However, over recent years, these specialists have decided to promote their own systems, based on their in-depth expertise in security issues. “Our work begins with mathematical theory and goes right up to the development of very concrete applications. We never lose sight of these two approaches - which make the PolSys team unique.”

First concrete application:three years ago, the team signed a contract with the French army to develop a prototype to be built into the mobile phones of the personnel sent into the field.  Today, the two researchers are about to create their own start-up: PQAT. Moreover the Atos-Joseph Fourier Award, worth €10,000, should be incorporated into its share capital. The objective: to commercialise post-quantum encryption solutions as well as consulting service to companies. The expected launch date is next autumn.

Key dates :

 July 5, 2018: Jean-Charles Faugère and Ludovic Perret receive the Atos-Fourier Prize

January 2017: The PIA RISQ (Future Investments Program), a group of French industry for post-quantum security, is born, in which PolSys participates

 September 2015: creation of a prototype for the army

 2002 - 2015: algebraic cryptanalysis of several post-quantum schemes

January 2012: creation of the PolSys project team