Project Leap: Quantum-proofing the financial system

Project Leap, launched by the BIS Innovation Hub's Eurosystem Centre together with Bank of France and Deutsche Bundesbank, the project partners within the Eurosystem, seeks to build quantum-resistant IT environments for the financial system.

Why quantum computers represent a cyber threat to the financial data

Financial records contain highly sensitive information. The confidentiality of these records may come under threat when quantum computers mature. Their enormously powerful processing capacity will eventually break many of the encryptions, particularly the asymmetric cryptographic protocols, that protect today's systems.

While it is still unclear when quantum computing technology might be adopted on a large scale, its potential as a cyber threat to the financial system is already a matter of concern. The ability to break current encryption methods could compromise sensitive financial data, especially if large amounts of data are being harvested today with the intention of decrypting them in the future. 

Recognising these potential risks to its systems and data, the financial sector needs to pre-emptively implement robust quantum communication and data protection technologies. Given the long-term sensitivity of financial data and the complexity of central bank IT systems, a transition phase should be initiated well in advance so that stronger protocols can be implemented.

Preparing for the cyber threat of quantum computers 

Project Leap will, first, test the implementation of post-quantum cryptographic protocols in central bank processes. Second, it will help to advance the central banking community's knowledge of post-quantum cryptography. 

To achieve the first goal, the project will implement one traditional public key algorithm alongside a quantum-resistant algorithm in a hybrid cyphering mode, with the aim of maintaining the confidentiality of messages sent across two or more IT systems. This new protocol will first be tested with payment messages transmitted between the Bank of France and the Deutsche Bundesbank. The objective is to test how existing products and processes perform using quantum-resistant technology. 

Project Leap overview

To foster a broader understanding of post-quantum cryptography, Project Leap will explore existing solutions that embody the notion of cryptographic agility, and it will seek to raise public awareness of the issues involved in shifting to new cryptographic schemes. A concluding report and the accompanying technical architecture (tested through the experiments) will be published, as a form of knowledge-building on quantum-resistant cryptography and the challenges of building a migration plan.

Implementing quantum-resistant communication is already feasible today, but it is crucial to understand how these new standards will affect central bank operations. The operational characteristics of these new protocols are for the most part unknown since real-time processes have not been adequately tested – a gap that Project Leap aims to fill.

Raphael Auer, Head of BIS Innovation Hub Eurosystem Centre