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SK Telecom and Thales collaborate on post-quantum cryptography

December 2023 by Marc Jacob

Korean mobile operator SK Telecom and Thales partnered to deploy Post Quantum Cryptography (PQC) on 5G networks to upgrade protection of subscribers’ identity and privacy.

This is a significant innovation based on Thales 5G PQC SIM cards and SKT 5G standalone network environment.
Both SK Telecom and Thales demonstrated key advanced mobile cryptographic expertise to pioneer this quantum-resistant solution for the telecom industry.

In the context of 5G networks and the evolution of cryptographic standards, SK Telecom ("SKT”), the largest mobile operator in Korea, and Thales, leader in digital security, partnered to successfully test advanced quantum-resistant cryptography. Based on 5G standalone network and 5G SIM, the solution aims at encrypting and decrypting subscriber identity in a secure way to protect user privacy from future quantum threats. This achievement is already crucial today as it protects subscribers against potential "record now, decrypt later" attacks. It represents a major step forward since it allows to safeguard subscribers’ identities via a regular commercial telecom network.

The innovation consists in upgrading the cryptography used to anonymize the user digital identity on the 5G network. Indeed, the user identity on a 5G network is concealed and secured on the device side thanks to the 5G SIM. The security mechanisms involve cryptographic algorithms designed to resist attacks from future quantum computers, providing a level of security that is considered robust in the post-quantum era.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been leading an initiative to standardize post-quantum cryptographic algorithms, and SKT and Thales have used the Crystals-Kyber one for this successful real condition trial. These post-quantum secure algorithms are being developed to withstand attacks from both classical and quantum computers.

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