Clever Method to Protect Satellite Communications from Quantum Computing

Updated 3/16 with input from the Astrapi Corporation team.

Securing communications is on the forefront of anyone involved in the cybersecurity industry.  With the looming advent of quantum computing’s threat to encryption, there is reason to race towards a solution.  One such avenue is a method descriptively titled “Symbol Waveform Hopping”, or SWH.

The SWH method is in development by the Astrapi Corporation, under contract to the U.S. Air Force.  Utilizing new techniques in mathematical applications, Astrapi’s method enables transmission security in satellite communications.

“We are quite encouraged and excited about this advanced approach to securing communication transmission. Symbol Waveform Hopping has broad application across multiple sectors. This technology represents a major derivative advancement of our Spiral Modulation capability. We are making foundational improvements right at the core physical layer of the communications stack… It complements other very powerful and innovative developments by Astrapi,” said Dr. Jerrold Prothero, Founder and CEO of Astrapi Corporation.

The Crux

Encoding of satellite transmissions using frequency hopping, or FH, is a well-established process for protecting a signal from interception by switching between frequencies in a pattern known only to the sender and intended receiver.  However, FH is not inherently secure: an adversary who observes enough of the spectrum, or tracks frequency transitions, can beat it. 

SWH is like FH but in the time domain, instead of the frequency domain. Building on the very large symbol waveform design space provided by Spiral Modulation, SWH uses multiple symbol waveform alphabets and switches between them in a pseudo-random sequence. Without knowing the sequence, an adversary has too many possible symbol waveforms to distinguish between for the level of background noise. Interception is impossible for fundamental entropic reasons. An analogy is that SWH forces the interceptor to recognize an image that is smaller than the pixel size.

The Benefits

Unlike FH, SWH is theoretically secure.  Unlike encryption, SWH does not require processing cycles to encrypt or decrypt data.  Without the need for encryption, SWH removes the latency associated with encryption.  This savings in processing reduces the need for power, a staple for all electronics, and a premium commodity for satellite operation.

The Security  

While encryption protects a signal with a computationally complex problem, SWH’s challenge is resolution against the noise floor. Since no amount of computation can improve resolution, SWH is inherently secure against both conventional and quantum computers. By analogy, it does not matter how good you are at analyzing a photograph (computational power) if you cannot see the photograph in the first place (resolution).

Without the need for highly complex encryption algorithms to secure the data, high overhead processing costs and power consumption are not needed.  In this security solution, there is no readily-apparent target for classical or quantum computing.  This is the security strength SWH theoretically holds over quantum computing.


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