PQShield secures $37M more for ‘quantum resistant’ cryptography

Malicious hacking is getting increasingly sophisticated, and that’s leading to a very clear trend in security technology. To keep people and organizations safe, security also has to continue advancing its own complexity. 

Security startup PQShield has gotten an early start on that concept with a focus on “post-quantum” cryptography: software and hardware solutions that, in theory, are future-proofed, capable of withstanding even hacks one day carried out using the most powerful quantum machines. 

Now, to meet industry demand to build hardware and related systems based on its work, the company is announcing a further $37 million in funding. 

Addition, Lee Fixel’s investment firm, led this Series B with other strategic and financial backers including Chevron Technology Ventures, Legal & General and Braavos Capital (all new investors) and previous backer Oxford Science Enterprises. Addition also led PQShield’s Series A in 2022. (We asked but the startup is not disclosing valuation.)

Ali El Kaafarani, a mathematics academic from Oxford who founded and leads the startup (which was also founded in Oxford), said the funding will be going towards hiring more talent and working more closely with its current and new customers and partners.

That list includes companies like AMD, Microchip Technologies, Collins Aerospace, Lattice Semiconductor, Sumitomo Electric, NTT Data, Mirise Technologies (Toyota / Denso R&D), and others that PQShield does not name, alongside providing advisory to the White House, European Parliament, UK National Cyber Security Council and World Economic Forum. It also has worked with the biggest name in chips, and currently also in technology overall: Nvidia.

“We still have the highest density of cryptographers in the industry, in particular in the area of post-quantum cryptography,” he said in an interview. Added to that, there is an interesting development underway in terms of standardization that will also impact how the field evolves. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. has been working for a decade on the idea of establishing post-quantum cryptographic standards. Those are now expected to be announced in the coming months, Dr El Kaafarani said. “In just two or three weeks we very much expect NIST to publish the official standards after publishing the drafts last August.”

One thing to watch is the role companies like PQShield — and others in the same space include Xiphera, Post-Quantum, larger companies like Palo Alto Networks, and more — take on as technology and computing continue to evolve, and how major companies adopt more sophisticated encryption to safeguard users’ data at both the software and hardware layers. 

Today, a lot of popular discourse around encryption has centered around how it can be used to safeguard messaging platforms. (Notably PQShield also provides its technology pro bono to the Signal Foundation and is, Dr El Kaafarani said, “working on different research projects with them.”) And in the realm of enterprise, how it is used in security systems to safeguard data both within company networks and when it is transported or shared outside them. 

The next stage of that is likely to be around how to handle data in AI environments, both in AI applications but also in the training of models and more. (And of course how to safeguard data in a world where malicious hackers are using AI to break through all protections.)

Apple, as one example, is taking a new approach to how to handle privacy in AI computing with a new approach it’s termed Private Cloud Compute, which it says enables “private AI processing” by integrating private clouds more tightly with its custom on-device silicon. 

“AI will be yet another reason why we need to make sure that our cryptography is up to date,”  Dr El Kaafarani said. “I believe that whether it’s Apple or others, you will see that they will start immediately using post quantum cryptography for AI because they will not go through the legacy cryptography and then have to change to the new standards.”

With solutions developed in three formats – a system on a chip that is designed to sit on hardware like smartcards or processors; software by way of a cryptographic SDK that can be integrated into mobile and server apps and technologies used to process data or run security operations; and a toolkit aimed at communications companies designed specifically to secure messaging services – there is an interesting angle to PQShield that takes it out of the realm of straight deep tech and into a more commercializable tooling, which is likely one reason why investors like Addition are interested especially at a moment when computing and chips appear to be evolving so rapidly. 

“PQShield has continued its trajectory as a pioneer and leading authority in post-quantum cryptography for hardware and software. As we approach the culmination of the NIST PQC project, we expect newly-ratified standards to catalyze the quantum security market and drive rapid adoption of PQC across the technology supply chain,” said Fixel in a statement. “Thanks to an industry-leading team with decades of combined experience, PQShield has established a best-in-class product offering that is already leading the field. We are excited to see the company build on its existing commercial success and protect our digital future.”

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