The quantum meltdown of encryption

The world stands at the cusp of one of the greatest breakthroughs in information technology. Huge leaps forward in all fields of computer science, from data analysis to machine learning, will result from this breakthrough. But like all of man’s technological achievements, from the combustion engine to nuclear power, harnessing quantum comes with potential dangers as well. Quantum computers have created a slew of unforeseen vulnerabilities in the very infrastructure that keeps the digital sphere safe.

The underlying assumption behind nearly all encryption ciphers used today is that their complexity precludes any attempt by hackers to break them, as it would take years for even our most advanced conventional computers to do so. But quantum computing will change all of that.

Quantum computers promise to bring computational power leaps and bounds ahead of our most advanced machines. Recently, scientists at Google began testing their cutting edge 72 qubit quantum computer. The researchers expect to demonstrate with this machine quantum supremacy, or the ability to perform a calculation impossible with traditional computers.

Chink in the Armor

Today’s standard encryption techniques are based on what’s called Public Key Infrastructure or PKI, a set of protocols brought to the world of information technology in the 1970’s. PKI works by generating a complex cipher through random numbers that only the intended recipient of a given message, the one in possession of the private key, can decode.

As a system of encoding data, PKI was sound and reliable. But in order to implement it as a method to be used in the real world, there was still one question that needed to be answered: how could individuals confirm the identity of a party reaching out and making a request to communicate? This vulnerability left the door open for cybercriminals to impersonate legitimate servers, or worse, insert themselves into a conversation between users and intercept communications between them, in what’s known as a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack.

The industry produced a solution to this authentication problem in the form of digital certificates, electronic documents the contents of which can prove senders are actually who they claim to be. The submission of certificates at the initiation of a session allows the parties to know who it is they are about to communicate with. Today, trusted third party companies called Certificate Authorities, or CAs, create and provide these documents that are relied upon by everyone from private users to the biggest names in tech.

The problem is that certificates themselves rely on public-key cryptographic functions for their reliability, which, in the not too distant future, will be vulnerable to attack by quantum machines. Altered certificates could then be used by cyber criminals to fake their identities, completely undermining certificates as a method of authentication.

Intel’s 17-qubit superconducting test chip for quantum computing has unique features for improved connectivity and better electrical and thermo-mechanical performance. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

 

Decentralizing the Threat

This isn’t the first time we’ve had to get creative when it comes to encryption.

When Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, whose true identity is still unknown, revealed his revolutionary idea in a 2008 white paper, he also introduced the beginnings of a unique peer-to-peer authentication system that today we call blockchain. The brilliantly innovative blockchain system at its core is an open ledger that records transactions between two parties in a permanent way without needing third-party authentication. Blockchain provided the global record-keeping network that has kept Nakamoto’s digital currency safe from fraudsters. Blockchain is based on the concept of decentralization, spreading the authentication process across a large body of users. No single piece of data can be altered without the alteration of all other blocks, which would require the collusion of the majority of the entire network.

For years, blockchain and Bitcoin remained one and the same. About five years ago, innovators in the industry began to realize that blockchain could be used for more than just securing cryptocurrency. Altering the original system designed for Bitcoin could produce programs to be applied in a wide range of industries, from healthcare, to insurance, to political elections. Gradually, new decentralized systems began to emerge such as those of Ripple and Litecoin. In 2015, one of the original contributors to the Bitcoin codebase Vitalik Buterin released his Ethereum project also based on blockchain. What these new platforms added to the picture was the ability to record new types of data in addition to currency exchanges, such as loans and contractual agreements.

The advantages of the blockchain concept quickly became apparent. By 2017, nearly fifteen percent of all financial institutions in the world were using blockchain to secure aspects of their operations. The number of industries incorporating decentralized systems continues to grow.

Digital security key concept background with binary data code

Saving PKI

The best solution for protecting encryption from our ever-growing processing power is integrating decentralization into Public Key Infrastructure.

What this means essentially, is that instead of keeping digital certificates in one centralized location, which makes them vulnerable to being hacked and tampered with, they would be spread out in a world-wide ledger, one fundamentally impervious to alteration. A hacker attempting to modify certificates would be unable to pull off such a fraud, as it would mean changing data stored on enumerable diversified blocks spread out across the cyber sphere.

Decentralization has already been proven as a highly effective way of protecting recorded data from tampering. Similarly, using a blockchain-type system to replace the single entity Certificate Authority, can keep our digital certificates much safer. It is in fact one of the only foreseeable solutions to keep the quantum revolution from undermining the foundation of PKI.

 

Inspector warned duck boat company of design flaws last year

Inspector warned duck boat company of design flaws last yearA private inspector said Saturday that he warned the company operating duck boats on a Missouri lake about design flaws putting the watercraft at greater risk of sinking, less than a year before the accident that killed 17 people during a sudden storm. Steve Paul, owner of the Test Drive Technologies inspection service in the St. Louis area, said he issued a written report for the company in August 2017. It explained why the boats' engines — and pumps that remove water from their hulls — might fail in inclement weather.


Propelling deep space flight with a new fuel source, Momentus prepares for liftoff

Mikhail Kokorich, the founder of Momentus, a new Y Combinator-backed propulsion technology developer for space flight, hadn’t always dreamed of going to the moon.

A physicist who graduated from Russia’s top-ranked Novosibirsk University, Kokorich was a serial entrepreneur in who grew up in Siberia and made his name and his first fortunes in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The heart of Momentus’ technology is a new propulsion system that uses water as a propellant instead of chemicals.

Image courtesy Momentus

Using water has several benefits, Kokorich says. One, it’s a fuel source that’s abundant in outer space, and it’s ultimately better and more efficient fuel for flight beyond low earth orbit. “If you move something with a chemical booster stage to the moon. Chemical propulsion is good when you need to have a very high thrust,” according to Kokorich. Once a ship gets beyond gravity’s pull, water simply works better, he says.

Some companies are trying to guide micro-satellites with technologies like Phase 4 which use ionized gases like Xenon, but according to Kokorich those are more expensive and slower. “When ionized propulsion is used for geostationary satellites to orbit, it takes months,” says Kokorich, using water can half the time.

“We can carry ten tons to geostationary orbit and it’s much faster,” says Kokorich.

The company has already signed an agreement with ECM Space, a European launch services provider, which will provide the initial trip for the company’s first test of its propulsion system on a micro-satellite — slated for early 2019.

That first product, “Zeal,” has specific impulses of 150 to 180 seconds and power up to 30 watts.

Kokorich started his first business, Dauria, in the mid-90s amid the collapse of the Soviet Union, selling explosives and engineering services to mining companies in Siberia. Kokorich sold that business and went into retail, eventually building a network of stores that sold home goods and housewares across Russia.

That raked in more millions for Kokorich, who then said he diversified into electronics by buying Russia’s BestBuy chain out bankruptcy. But space was never far from his mind, and, eventually he returned to it.

“In 2011 I hit my middle-aged crisis,” Korkorich says. “So I founded the first private Russian aerospace company.”

That company, Dauria Aerospace, was initially feted by the government, garnering the entrepreneur a place in Skolkovo, and its inaugural cohort of space companies. In an announcement of the successes the space program had achieved in 2014 Kokorich co-authored a piece with the Russian cosmonaut Sergey Zhukov, who remains the executive director of the networking and aerospace programs at the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle startup incubator.

Utilis detects water leaks underground using satellite imagery.

A few months later Kokorich would be in the U.S. working to back the first of what’s now a triumvirate of startups focused on space.

“With all the problems with Russia in the Western world, I moved to the U.S.,” says Kokorich. Dauria had quickly raised $30 million for its work, but as this Moscow Times article notes, stiff competition from U.S. firms and the sanctions leveled against Russia in the wake of its invasion and annexation of Crimea were taking their toll on the entrepreneur’s business. “It was a purely political immigration,” Korkorich says. “I don’t have purely business opportunities, because you have to work with the government [and] because the government would not like me.”

For all of his protestations, Kokorich has maintained several economic ties with partners in Russia. It’s through an investment firm called Oden Holdings Ltd. that Kokorich took an investment stake in the Canadian company Helios Wire, which was one of his first forays into space entrepreneurship outside of Russia. That company makes cryptographically secured applications for the transmission and reception of data from internet-enabled devices.

The second space company that the co-founder has built since moving to the U.S. is the satellite company Astra Digital, which processes data from satellites to make that information more accessible.

Now, with Momentus, Kokorich is turning to the problem of propulsion. “When transportation costs decrease, many business models emerge” Kokorich says. And Kokorich sees Momentus’ propulsion technology driving down the costs of traveling further into space — opening up opportunities for new businesses like asteroid mining and lunar transit.

The Momentus team is already thinking well beyond the initial launch. The company’s eyes are on a prize well beyond geostationary orbit.

Indeed, with water as a power source, the company says it will lay the groundwork for future cislunar and interplanetary rides. The company envisions a future where it will power water prospecting and delivery throughout the solar system, solar power stations, in-space manufacturing and space tourism.

Eventbrite is reportedly going public in the second half of this year

Eventbrite, the 12-year-old, San Francisco-based event-planning company, has filed confidentially for an IPO and plans to go public later this year, according to a new report in the WSJ. The company’s lead underwriters are Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase & Co., it says.

The offering must seem a long time in coming for Eventbrite founders Julia Hartz; her husband, Kevin Hartz; and the company’s technical cofounder and CTO, Renaud Visage.

Originally created for individuals wanting to host smaller events and private parties, but who faced few few options aside creating Excel spreadsheets — remember, the ticketing world formerly revolved around stadiums and major sporting events —  Eventbrite has grown steadily over the years into a corporate giant. It now powers ticketing for millions of events in more than 180 countries, and it has rung up more than $10 billion in cumulative tickets sales since its founding.

According to Forbes, in 2017, Eventbrite processed more than three million tickets per week to events, including conferences and festivals.

Part of the company’s growth has come through acquisitions. Last year, for example, Eventbrite acquired Ticketfly, a ticketing company that focused largely on the live entertainment industry and which had sold to the streaming music company Pandora in 2015 for a reported $335 million but Eventbrite was able to nab last year at the discounted price of $200 million.

Eventbrite has also made a broader international push in recent years, acquiring Ticketea, one of Spain’s leading ticketing providers, back in April, and acquiring Amsterdam-based Ticketscript back in January of last year. And those deals followed roughly half a dozen others.

Indeed, the company — which has raised roughly $330 over the years, including from Sequoia Capital, Tiger Global Management, and DAG Ventures  — has long been expected to go public, thanks in large part to its momentum, as well as its fairly turnkey and (we’d guess) lucrative business model.

Though we won’t see its numbers until closer to its IPO apparently, Eventbrite makes money off every transaction. For event organizers charging for ticket sales, Eventbrite’s fees vary by package, but one of its most popular packages collects 1 percent of the ticket price and $0.99 per paid ticket, plus another 3 percent for payment processing per transaction. It also sells a “professional package” wherein it collects 2.5 percent of the ticket price and $1.99 per paid ticket, plus a 3 percent payment processing fee per transaction. Last but not least, Eventbrite sells “premium package” with customized pricing.

Eventbrite is led by Julia Hartz, who took over the position of CEO in 2016, roughly six months after husband Kevin stepped down from his chief executive duties owing to a “non-life-threatening medical condition.” Until that point, Julia Hartz had primarily been tasked with overseeing marketing, customer support, sales, and human resources.

Both cofounders appeared earlier this month at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, an event that attracts many of the wealthiest and most powerful people in U.S. media, technology, and sports, and whose attendees are often on the cusp of taking their companies public — if they haven’t already.

When Eventbrite does complete its IPO, Hartz will join a tiny but growing list of female founders to steer their companies onto the public markets. Last October, when the mail-ordering clothing service Stitch Fix went public, its founder and CEO, Katrina Lake, became the first woman to take an internet company public in all of 2017.

Ellen Pao memoir adaptation among 7 new Shonda Rhimes projects for Netflix

When Shonda Rhimes left ABC last August for Netflix, both she and the studio kept a tight lid on their plans. We could only imagine where the twists and turns that her future stories would take us. Well, now we know.

This week, Rhimes’s production company Shondaland and Netflix announced seven projects that she will make for the streaming platform with her production partner Betsy Beers who also made the move to Netflix. The projects tell stories of women of color, talented kids, important and routinely overlooked American history, fancy English relationships and pre-2017 White House doings.

Ellen Pao’s memoir Reset, published last fall, details her life and career, which includes the gender discrimination lawsuit she brought against her former employer Kleiner Perkins in 2015. Even though she lost the suit, Pao felt the battle was worth it, saying at the time: “If I’ve helped to level the playing field for women and minorities in venture capital, then the battle was worth it.” She continues to work for inclusion in tech as founder and CEO of Project Include, an organization dedicated to making careers in tech accessible to everyone.

Julia Quinn’s best-selling Bridgerton series of novels will jump off the page and onto our screens, because we all need to be flies on the proverbial walls of “the wealthy, sexual, painful, funny and sometimes lonely lives in London’s high society marriage mart.” Mmhmm. Scandal writer Chris Van Dusen will be responsible for the adaptation.

The Warmth of Other Suns,” published in 2010 by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, tells the story of the African-American migration out of the South between 1916-1970. According to her website, Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people and uncovered archival works over 15 years in order to bring these stories to light. Actor, solo performer, playwright and professor Anna Deavere Smith is signed on to adapt the piece for a viewing audience.

And for some more history, “Pico & Sepulveda” is set in the 1840s when California wasn’t quite California yet. According to Netflix, it will track “the end of an idyllic ear there as American forces threaten brutality and war at the border to claim the breathtaking land for its own.”

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House” is a non-fiction tale told by Kate Andersen Brower that details the relationship between White House staffers and First Families in an upstairs/downstairs kind of way. The book was published in the spring of 2016 so, well, you know.

Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, an award-winning reimagining of the Tchaikovsky ballet, will get the documentary treatment by Shondaland and Netflix, behind-the-scenes style.

“Sunshine Scouts” will be a half-hour dark comedy that follows a group of teenage girls who survived an apocalyptic-level disaster while they were at sleep-away camp.

These seven projects join the previously announced adaptation of a New York Magazine article about how Anna Delvey duped people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by posing as a German heiress. Rhimes is set to write this one.

If you want to hear Rhimes talk about her move to Netflix, you’re in luck, because she was the first guest of TechCrunch Mixtape (formerly CTRL+T), my podcast with senior reporter Megan Rose Dickey. Check it out below.

Warner Bros. unveils the first trailers for ‘Aquaman’ and ‘Shazam’

Today at Comic-Con, Warner Bros . gave fans a peek at the first DC Comics films post-Justice League.

Warner Bros. and DC had a bumpy 2017. There was the astonishing critical and commercial success of Wonder Woman, followed by the box office disappointment of Justice League — leading to an executive shakeup and a general rethinking of its movie strategy.

Will Aquaman, which stars Jason Momoa as the titular superhero and is due out on December 21, turn things around? Director James Wan told the Comic-Con audience that his goal is to create a movie that “plays more like a science-fiction fantasy film than a traditional super hero movie.”

Wan (who’s best-known for horror titles like Saw and The Conjuring but also directed Furious 7) previously said there’s been a long wait for the trailer because he wanted to ensure the visual effects were ready — and after watching this footage, you can see what he was talking about.

The trailer does spend some time establishing the relationships between Aquaman, his love interest Mera (Amber Heard), his mother Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and his half-brother/rival Orm (Patrick Wilson). My real takeaway, though, is that this is going to be a spectacular, effects-filled movie with plenty of undersea action.

Then there’s Shazam!, which looks like it could be DC’s first outright comedy.

With the film’s release date (April 5, 2019) still nearly a year away, this trailer seems to focus on a few key scenes setting up the premise, with young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) gifted by a mysterious stranger with the ability to turn into a big red superhero (Zachary Levi) by just calling out the word “Shazam!” (The character was originally known as Captain Marvel, but I assume that they’ll stick with the Shazam name in the movie.)

Like Wan, director David F. Sandberg has previously helmed horror movies (specifically Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation), but the trailer makes it clear that he’s taking a light-hearted approach to the material. Despite his appearance as an invulnerable superhero, this version of Shazam is still a goofy kid.

And if you were hoping for a glimpse at Wonder Woman 1984, it sounds like the filmmakers did show off footage at Comic-Con, but they don’t have a polished trailer yet to put online.

Director Patty Jenkins said she looks at the movie as less of a sequel and more a standalone story with the same character: “We can make a whole new movie that’s as strong and unique as the first. It’s not more of anything; it’s its own thing.”

Oh, and stop reading now if you don’t want to be spoiled for a year-old movie, but if you’re wondering why Chris Pine is in 1984 when his character Steve Trevor appeared to die in the first Wonder Woman: Apparently there were no answers forthcoming during the panel.