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Sandbox AQ raises $500 mln for cyber security, other quantum work

Sandbox AQ, a startup spun off from Alphabet Inc last year, said on Tuesday it raised $500 million as it helps customers prepare for a quantum computing future.

Quantum computers, whose processors run based on quantum physics, could one day carry out certain calculations millions of times quicker than today’s fastest super computers, yet they remain years away from making a big change, such as breaking encryption.

But as hackers can harvest data today and wait to decrypt them when the quantum computers are ready, the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the U.S. Commerce Department selected new cryptography standards last year that could better withstand quantum computers.

The U.S. government has set quantum computing as one of the key technologies important for national security.

Sandbox AQ’s software scans companies’ systems to identify which parts use the old cryptography, identifies which need to be replaced urgently, and sets out to fortify the encryption of the enterprise, said CEO Jack Hidary.

“Right now you have a lot of banks and pharma companies and governments still using these old protocols,” said Hidary. “The average bank takes five to seven years to migrate over. … Now, hopefully they’ll do their important customer private information first.”

Sandbox also has a business selling powerful simulation software to accelerate development of drugs and materials.

The simulation does not currently need quantum computers to work, said Hidary. He said in the last 18 months chips that do artificial intelligence work have become powerful enough to run some of the math for quantum physics. When quantum computers are ready, that work would speed up even further.

Sandbox AQ is also using existing types of sensors based on quantum physics. These have long been MRI machines, for instance, and Sandbox has created a prototype machine to monitor the heart. It can also be used to monitor slight local changes in the earth’s magnetic field, making navigation systems much more precise, he said.

Last month Sandbox AQ said it won a contract with the U.S. Air Force to research these quantum navigation technologies

Former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt is the startup’s chairman as well as investor. Other investors include Breyer Capital, T. Rowe Price funds and Inc (CRM.N) founder Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures.

Schmidt in a statement said Sandbox AQ has already signed up more than 15 enterprise and government customers and is partnering with 30 universities to train PhDs and other talent needed.

Some of the team and inspiration for Sandbox originated at Alphabet in 2016. But the Google parent is not a shareholder as Hidary said he wanted the company to be independent to work with the other major cloud companies as well. Reuters

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