DOD wants concepts for protecting IT against quantum computing

(DoD / U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann / Flickr)

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The Pentagon’s IT communications arm is looking to commercial tech companies for information on the use of algorithms and cryptography to defend against attacks that use quantum computers.

The Defense Information Systems Agency intends to issue an other transaction agreement (OTA) award to “research, evaluate, test, and deliver a prototype utilizing cryptographic algorithms and solutions that would secure DoD IT systems against both quantum and classical computers,” according to a request for white papers it issued this month.

Quantum computing is an emerging technology has the potential to dramatically increase computing power and, with that, deliver stronger hacking capabilities as well as better encryption against them. Last December, President Trump signed the National Quantum Initiative Act into law to boost the nation’s research and development of quantum technologies.

DISA’s effort, however, is one of the first by a large federal agency to address the perceived operational threats of the technology against its IT infrastructure.

“Arrival of the quantum-computing era is inevitable, though its timing is unknown,” DISA writes in its solicitation. “DoD must begin now to prepare its information security systems to protect against quantum computing attacks. One of the immediate concerns facing DoD has to do with Public key cryptography data encryption. Due to growing concerns related to quantum computers-machines, DISA has begun to investigate quantum-resistant or quantum-safe cryptography algorithms and solutions.”

From the received white papers, DISA will identify viable solutions and invite vendors to give oral presentations. From those, the agency will select a vendor to which it will issue a request for a proposal. If the proposal meets DISA’s criteria, it will begin to negotiate the award of the prototype OTA.

DISA began using OTAs to award contracts in 2018. The OTA authority, which has existed for decades but was expanded in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, allows defense agencies and others to grant relatively small contracts for the development of prototypes and then follow on with an additional contract for production if and when the pilot is successful. Typically, the contract can be awarded in less than 60 days, rather than months and years.

Director Vice Adm. Nancy Norton detailed earlier this month how the agency plans to up its use of OTAs in the coming year.

Interested companies have until June 14 to submit a white paper to DISA.

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Cybersecurity, Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Department of Defense (DOD), OTAs, quantum computing
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