A cross-industry consortium is tackling cybersecurity threats to digital trade, with the completion of what it says is the world’s first quantum-secure transaction.

The pilot transaction, which saw sample building products transported from the UK to Singapore, was orchestrated by the International Chamber of Commerce UK and Centre for Digital Trade and Innovation (C4DTI) and supported by Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). It was made possible by the UK-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement, signed in 2022.

Using the IMDA’s TradeTrust framework, electronic trade documents, including an electronic bill of lading and a digital promissory note, were simultaneously reconciled using distributed ledger technology in both jurisdictions. A quantum-secure ‘seal’ was placed around the electronic trade documents using encryption technology from Arqit, which the consortium says ensures protection from “current and future cyber threats including the risk posed by quantum computers”.

The trade transaction comes ahead of the imminent passage of the UK’s Electronic Trade Documents Bill (ETDB), which will recognise electronic transferable documents as equivalent to paper – as long as certain requirements are met.

Arqit says it believes that the requirements around the integrity of digital records and security from unauthorised access in the Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR) – upon which the ETDB is based – are problematic in the quantum age.

Quantum computing is a growing cybersecurity concern, as an algorithm can be used to derive a private key from a public key, essentially cracking a critical part of the internet’s security infrastructure.

According to Arqit, its Symmetric Key Agreement Platform is the only known method to create quantum-safe encryption at any endpoint from cloud systems.

“Arqit was proud to be the lead partner in this important project and to use our first-of-its-kind quantum-safe encryption technology to secure the transaction,” says Barry Childe, Arqit CIO and co-founder. “The MLETR being enacted internationally ushers in an era of digital transformation in financial services, but you cannot invest in long-term transformation that is not secure against quantum attack. We believe that Arqit alone can deliver that.”

The pilot digital transaction, which also used traditional paper documentation in parallel, is the latest in a series of test cases to come out of the C4DTI since its launch in April last year. The centre is also working with Thailand’s Electronic Transaction Development Agency to test and connect digital trade systems between Thailand and the UK.

“This ground-breaking pilot provides a great example of how digitalisation can remove friction from trade between the UK and Singapore and is a practical demonstration of the improvements that are achievable under the terms of MLETR-type legislation and the negotiation of good, effective digital economy agreements, such as that agreed between the UK and Singapore,” says Nick Davies, C4DTI director.