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May 26, 2022

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Future proofing cyber security for the healthcare sector with quantum communications

Data security is hugely important in healthcare. Patient details and medical records, most of which are held digitally now, must be kept secure at all times, whether in storage or in transfer between healthcare providers. Any breach of cyber security resulting in a violation of confidentiality laws could have major legal and financial implications.

Furthermore, security of data and communications is also crucial to the supply chains underpinning the healthcare sector, such as the drugs industry and providers of medical technologies. Cyber security issues here would impact key UK businesses and certainly impact the healthcare sector.

Advances in quantum computing pose a real threat to the security of data and communications and thus, in turn, the healthcare sector and its suppliers. Once large and powerful quantum computers exist, current encryption techniques underpinning the world’s cyber security infrastructure will be vulnerable to attack and in fact, data could be intercepted and downloaded now, ready to be decrypted later. It is therefore imperative that healthcare providers and suppliers act quickly and take steps to secure their communications.

The Quantum Communications Hub is developing a variety of technologies which will enable secure communications to take place at all distance scales, future-proofing cyber security ready for a world where powerful quantum computers exist. Once adopted at large scale, these technologies will enable communications guaranteed secure by the laws of physics to take place on a global scale.

Of particular interest to the healthcare sector and its suppliers are quantum networks, which harness properties of quantum physics to transfer data securely through fibre optic cables, over long-distance scales. Once quantum networks are implemented, healthcare providers and their suppliers will be able to trust that sensitive data can be transferred up and down the country completely securely, without the worry of interception and decryption. There is also the possibility for healthcare providers to install their own small-scale local quantum networks, facilitating the secure transfer of data internally across medical campuses.

Researchers at the Quantum Communications Hub are developing quantum networking technologies for integration within current communications infrastructure, demonstrating that quantum secure communications can operate in the real world, alongside conventional communications infrastructure. The UK’s first quantum network, the UKQN, was launched in 2018 by the Hub and provides a secure link spanning 410km, connecting Bristol to Cambridge. The UKQN was subsequently expanded with the launch of the UKQNtel in 2019. This network extends the UKQN by 125km to Ipswich, utilising previously installed standard commercial grade optical fibre, thus providing a real-world environment for field trials of new quantum secure communications technologies and systems and paving the way for the commercialisation of these technologies.