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UK organisations join secure quantum communications pilot

Written by Tue 3 Sep 2019

Four UK companies have joined a €15 million EU pilot to build ultra secure quantum communications infrastructure in several European countries

A new pilot project that aims to build the most secure communications infrastructure in Europe has been unveiled, bringing together 38 partners from industry and academia including four UK organisations.

Toshiba Research Europe (TREL), BT, the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Cambridge said they will join the OPENQKD initiative that aims to boost the security of critical applications in telecoms, healthcare, electrical supply and government services.

While in time the consortium will research and pilot a variety of quantum communication technologies, its main focus is to build a network infrastructure that incorporates quantum key distribution (QKD) technology.

TREL, itself an early developer of QKD, will adapt its technology to demonstrate use cases for quantum security in networks in several European cities which BT will test for operational viability.

The security of conventional key distribution — the sharing of cryptographic keys between two or more parties to facilitate secure information sharing — is under threat due to progress in computing hardware and software, new attack strategies, and the emergence of quantum computers themselves.

QKD advocates argue its integration into network infrastructure will guarantee the security of worldwide communications against even the most ‘arbitrarily powerful’ eavesdroppers.

The laws of quantum mechanics state that the act of measuring a system leaves detectable traces. When applied to communications security this fundamental property of nature can immediately alert parties to attackers attempting to eavesdrop on communications.

QKD technology uses these and other quantum properties to guarantee the secure exchange of cryptographic keys for encrypting and decrypting messages over insecure channels.

The networks will provide a test-bed for the long-term viability of QKD technology and sector-specific applications. Healthcare use cases will be developed between the University of Cambridge, TREL, and BT, with a main focus on securing communications between several biotech campuses in Cambridge.

Central to the viability of QKD technology is hardware interoperability and OPENQKD organisations will work to develop standards to enable seamless device integration. A further objective is to devise security certifications for QKD-based infrastructure.

The project will last for three years and have a budget of €15 million. Its 38 confirmed partners include quantum equipment manufacturers, network operators, system integrators, small and medium-sized enterprises, research and technology organisations, universities, certification and standardisation bodies and end-users.

Helmut Leopold, head of the Center for Digital Safety and Security at the Austrian Insitute of Technology, which is coordinating the project, commented:

“With the European OPENQKD initiative, Europe builds on its leadership in science and technology in the sector of quantum technologies by fostering a strong cooperation among research and industry as well as the public sector. This will enable an innovative eco-system for creating a new perspective for our secure digital Europe and building the foundation for next generation communication technologies.”

Written by Tue 3 Sep 2019

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EU quantum computing
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