NIST takes first steps towards a quantum-resistant cybersecurity standard

6 Jul 2022

Image: © RoBird/

NIST has selected four encryption algorithms that are designed to withstand an assault from a quantum computer, which will become part of a new cryptographic standard.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has selected the first group of encryption algorithms that it believes are capable of protecting data from an assault by future quantum computers.

Encryption is used across digital systems such as websites and emails to protect sensitive information from third parties. It involves complex maths problems that modern computers cannot solve to keep data secure.

However, it is believed that quantum computers could become advanced enough to crack through modern encryption measures, which poses a future cybersecurity risk.

NIST has selected four encryption algorithms that it believes can withstand an assault from a future quantum computer. These will become part of a new standard that the institute expects to finalise in around two years.

The initiative to develop this standard began in 2016, when NIST called on cryptographers to devise and vet potentially quantum-resistant algorithms.

“Our post-quantum cryptography program has leveraged the top minds in cryptography – worldwide – to produce this first group of quantum-resistant algorithms that will lead to a standard and significantly increase the security of our digital information,” NIST director Laurie E Locascio said.

A new cryptographic standard

The algorithms NIST has chosen are designed for general encryption on public networks and for digital signatures used for identity authentication.

NIST has selected the Crystals-Kyber algorithm for general encryption due to its advantages of having “comparatively small encryption keys” and a fast operation speed.

It has chosen three algorithms for digital signature encryption, with Crystals-Dilithium being recommended as the primary algorithm. NIST said the Falcon algorithm will be used for applications that need a smaller signature than the other algorithm can provide.

The final algorithm, Sphincs+, is noted as being larger and slower but has been selected as a backup since it is based on a different maths approach than the other choices.

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said this “new post-quantum cryptographic standard” will replace current public-key cryptography and has shared a roadmap that organisations should follow to prepare for the transition.

This includes educating workforces on the upcoming transition, making an inventory of systems that use public-key cryptography and creating a plan to transition systems to the new standard.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic