Business Plan Challenge

Hacking will soon take place in the blink of an eye. This firm plans to play defense

Alexia Fodore for the Miami Herald

Advanced, persistent threat.

It’s the term used by computer security experts to describe the current global hacking environment.

Translation: If you are a big target, someone is trying to hack you, at all times, in what is likely a sophisticated way.

And according to the team behind PQSecure Technologies, a cyber security startup out of Florida Atlantic University, the situation is only going to get worse.

Its quantum defense system won the Trade & Logistics vertical in the Miami Herald’s 2019 Startup Pitch Competition’s Community Track.

Just over the horizon is a super-speedy way to process data, called quantum computing. Engineers are now applying breakthroughs in physics to create computers that can transform computing time from minutes to seconds and nanoseconds.

And as these things seem to go, hackers will develop tools to try millions of password combinations in the blink of an eye.

The threat is so certain that the founders of PQSecure believe the government will begin mandating a “post-quantum” security standard — and they are ready to capitalize.

PQSecure co-founder Reza Azarderakhsh gives the example of email. Right now, it would take months to a year to hack encrypted email. Some hackers are simply storing emails in anticipation of of quantum computers that will allow them to hack emails in a matter of days.

“We need to ensure we are not only protecting against attacks of current computers, but when quantum computers arrive,” he said.

PQSecure is positioning itself as a software and hardware company at the bleeding edge of cyber security. The team behind the company were nurtured by Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway in Boca Raton. The team includes four Ph.D.’s — several teach at FAU — and Ron Tarro, former CEO of Delray Beach-based hospitality software group SDD, which was acquired in 2014 by Broad Soft.

PQSecure has already received $225,000 in grants from the National Science Foundation. It also has three high-level tech firms on board as advisers, including Microsoft. It’s also submitted software for evaluation to the National Institute of Standards and Technology for the Washington agency’s post-quantum cryptography efforts.

That sealed it for the Business Plan Challenge judges.

“PQSecure already has name recognition in the cryptography industrial/government environments,” Loretta McNeir, aviation security director at consulting firm The Wicks Group, said in an email. “They already have awards/ grants and an audience seemingly ready to receive their product. Their product crosses all areas in that it will help to protect against quantum computer attacks and provide for data security in every venue.”

It’s a bet on the future. Right now, only a handful of elite entities like Google and the Defense Department own quantum computers. But so do the Russians, and likely the Chinese. “The big quantum computing discoveries that will most impact society are still years away,” Christopher Monroe, a physicist at the Univeristy of Maryland, wrote on tech site recently.

And quantum computers won’t ever really become household items, even as they become less expensive. Instead, they’ll be used to crunch massive amounts of data used to develop medicines, materials and financial projections.

But the demand for them will be huge.

“You won’t be seeing anything now — but there will be a huge disruption,”Azarderakhsh said. “We need to be ready.”