Data and communications security are absolutely essential today – for individuals, institutions, businesses, governments and nations. Current secure communications systems have vulnerabilities, some already exposed today and others that may become apparent in the future as computing power and hacking techniques improve. We now know that some very widely deployed mathematical encryption techniques (Public Key Encryption) will be rendered insecure by the emergence of future quantum computational technologies. Worse still, encrypted communications sent now, can be stored to be decrypted in the future, when quantum computers become available, so information with a requirement for long-term security is potentially already under threat today.
Secure communications based on quantum physics can eliminate some of these vulnerabilities, providing systems whose security is underpinned by the laws of nature. The basic features of quantum physics that enable secure communications are that information encoded in a quantum system cannot be copied; and that information encoded in a quantum system is irreversibly changed when somebody reads it, so that no hacking goes undetected.
Our researchers in the UK Quantum Communications Hub are developing such quantum secure communications technologies (for example, quantum key distribution – QKD) for a range of applications and users: from government agencies and industry to commercial establishments and all of us at home. In particular:
- we are trying to miniaturise quantum systems to make them cheaper to produce and purchase, and easier to incorporate on mobile phones and home computers through quantum chips;
- we are working towards quantum secured banking apps and ATM facilities to counteract online fraud;
- we have built a UK Quantum Network (linking the cities of Cambridge and Bristol via London using standard telecoms fibre) to help incorporate quantum security into the conventional telecommunications infrastructure;
- we are developing prototype quantum secured approaches for digital signatures – allowing recipients to ‘sign’ digital messages to confirm they are genuine – and advanced various other “next generation” technologies, beyond basic QKD;
- we are investigating the power of quantum random number generators – which are of paramount importance in many forms of cryptography, modelling and simulation;
- with RAL Space, we have started work on developing ground-to-satellite quantum communications links to address longest distance communications, intercontinental and across oceans;
- and we are undertaking cryptographic, security, vulnerability analysis and testing of quantum and post-quantum technologies with the view to develop effective and protective countermeasures – all from the perspective of providing practical and secure applications and services.
Our UK Quantum Communications Hub is a partnership of many UK Universities (Bristol Cambridge, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, Kent, Queen’s Belfast, Oxford, Sheffield, Strathclyde, and the lead – York), industry partners (ADVA, BT, Fraunhofer UK, ID Quantique, National Physical Laboratory, Teledyne e2v and many more) and public sector bodies (National Dark Fibre Facility, RAL Space) that have come together in a unique collaboration to exploit fundamental laws of quantum physics for the development of secure communications technologies and services.
Our project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.