SK Telecom (SKT) today announced that for the first time in the world, it developed a technology that allows for integrated control and operation of quantum cryptography networks by integrating networks composed of equipment from different manufacturers via software-defined networking (SDN) and distributing quantum keys in an automated manner.
So far it was impossible to connect and operate quantum cryptography communication networks of different companies and countries. However, with SKT‘s new technology, quantum cryptography communication networks of diverse manufacturers, mobile operators and nations can be interconnected and co-operated.
The company said that it completed verification of the technology on the Korea Advanced Research Network (KOREN), a non-profit testbed network infrastructure operated by the National Information Society Agency (NIA) to facilitate research, test and verification of future network leading technologies and related equipment.
Based on the results of development and verification of the technology, SKT has been actively promoting standardization by sharing the case with global telcos.
To set international standards for the integration of quantum cryptography communication networks, SKT proposed two standardization tasks – i.e. ‘Control Interface of Software Defined Networks’ and ‘Orchestration Interface of Software Defined Networks for Interoperable Key Management System’ – to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and they were chosen as work items by the ETSI industry specification group for QKD (ISG-QKD) in March 2023.
If approved as international standards, they will provide a technical basis for creating a large-scale network by interconnecting quantum cryptography communication networks built by many different operators. SKT plans to continue developing additional technologies for interworking of services between different operators/countries, as well as management of service quality.
Through these efforts, the company expects to strengthen the competitiveness of domestic companies and boost the quantum cryptography ecosystem both home and abroad.
Meanwhile, at this year’s IOWN Global Forum Workshop, SKT presented ‘Quantum Secure Interconnection for Critical Infrastructure,’ covering use cases for next-generation transmission encryption technology and proposal for a proof-of-concept (PoC) of quantum cryptography in All-Photonics Network (APN). The company also showcased its quantum cryptography communication technologies at 2023 MWC Barcelona.
“The two standardization tasks approved as work items by ETSI will boost the expansion of quantum cryptography communication in the global market,” said Ha Min-yong, Chief Development Officer of SKT. “We will work with diverse global players in many different areas to create new business opportunities in the global market.”
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Quantum cryptography communication transmits each bit of information as a single photon of light, which encrypts that information against eavesdropping or decryption. Telecom operators and vendors have been working for several years on integrating that level of encryption into networks.
For instance, Toshiba and the Tohoku Medical Megabank Organization at Tohoku University used quantum technology in 2018 to hit one-month-average key distribution speeds exceeding 10 Mb/s over installed optical fiber lines. They also used the technology to monitor the performance of installed optical fiber lines in different environments.
Toshiba later partnered with U.K.-based operator BT on using QKD across to secure a network transmission.
SK Telecom also has a long quantum history, including work with Swiss-based strategic partner ID Quantique, which focuses on quantum cryptography communication technology.
Industry trade group GSMA last year announced its Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce focused on supporting the industry’s creation of a roadmap to secure networks, devices and systems across the entire supply chain.” That work was initiated with IBM and Vodafone, and has since gained more than 45 members.
Lory Thorpe, GSMA Post-Quantum Telco Networks chairperson and head of IBM Consulting’s Telco Transformation Offerings, told SDxCentral last month that the core objective of the taskforce is to ensure the implementation of the right requirements and standards in a timely manner to avoid being “late to the party.” Thorpe explained the initial problem statement was “around how do we support the telco ecosystem to navigate the path to quantum safe.”
“When you look at where cryptography is used in telco systems, it impacts basically all of the different systems. But it also then impacts all of the standards that underpin these systems as well,” she said. “We’re advocating that people start planning, not panicking, but at least planning because … this isn’t something that just happens overnight.”
Scientists in China claim they have found a way for current-generation quantum computers to crack the RSA algorithm underlying the most common form of online encryption. The researchers said the encryption could be broken with a 372-quantum-bit (qubit) system using hybrid quantum-classical methods to overcome scaling limitations. The Chinese paper “Factoring integers with sublinear resources on a superconducting quantum processor” stated that the algorithm used factored a number with 48 bits on a quantum system with 10 qubits.
The likelihood that quantum computers would be able to crack online encryption was widely believed a danger that could lie a decade or more in the future. But the 24 researchers, from a number of China’s top universities and government-backed laboratories, said their research showed it could be possible using quantum technology that is already available. The quantum bits, or qubits, used in today’s machines are highly unstable and only hold their quantum states for extremely short periods, creating “noise.”
As a result, “errors accumulate in the computer and after around 100 operations there are so many errors the computation fails,” said Steve Brierley, chief executive of quantum software company Riverlane. That has led to a search for more stable qubits as well as error-correction techniques to overcome the “noise,” pushing back the date when quantum computers are likely to reach their full potential by many years. The Chinese claim, by contrast, appeared to be an endorsement of today’s “noisy” systems, while also prompting a flurry of concern in the cyber security world over a potentially imminent threat to online security.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Peter Shor pointed out that the team had “failed to address how fast the algorithm will run,” as it could “still take millions of years.” Shor, the American mathematician who first proposed a way for quantum computers to crack encryption, predicted that the inability to run all the computations at once meant it would take “millions of years” for a quantum computer to run the calculation proposed in the paper. The Chinese research comes at a time when many companies working on the technology are in a race to prove that today’s “noisy” systems can reach so-called quantum advantage — the point at which a quantum computer can perform a useful task more efficiently than a traditional, or “classical”, machine, ushering in commercial use of the technology.
- Brierley at Riverlane said it “can’t possibly work” because the Chinese researchers had assumed that a quantum computer would be able to simply run a vast number of computations simultaneously, rather than trying to gain an advantage through applying the system’s quantum properties.
- Four years ago, John Preskill, a professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, predicted that quantum systems would start to outperform and might have commercial uses once they reached 50-100 qubits in size. But that moment has come and gone without quantum systems showing any clear superiority. IBM unveiled a 127-qubit computer more than a year ago, and last month announced that a new 433-qubit processor would be available in the first quarter of 2023. These days, Preskill sounds more cautious. “I expect that for practical applications with significant business value we’ll have to wait for error-corrected fault-tolerant quantum computers,” he said, adding that this was likely to be “a ways off.” But he added that today’s systems already had scientific value. One reason that hopes have retreated is that new ways have been found to program classical computers to handle tasks that were once thought to be beyond them.
This has pushed back the quantum frontier, delaying the moment when people building quantum systems can claim an advantage, said Oskar Painter, head of quantum hardware in the cloud computing division at Amazon, one of the tech companies that is building its own quantum computer. “They never finally could say, ‘This will be better,’” he said. After years of rising expectations, the lack of practical uses for the technology has led some experts to warn of a potential “quantum winter” — a period when disappointment about a new technology leads to a waning of interest for a number of years. The term is borrowed from the AI “winters” of the 1970s and 1980s, when a number of promising research avenues turned out to be dead ends, setting the field back for prolonged periods.
“People are worried it will be really harsh,” said Painter at Amazon Web Services. Like many in the field, though, he said that any short-term backlash was unlikely to hit long-term research funding. “I don’t think it will go away.” Receding hopes for early benefits from quantum computing have already contributed to a sharp fall in the stocks of a handful of companies that rode the wave of enthusiasm over the sector to go public since the middle of 2021. Based on their peak share prices soon after they each went public, Arquit, IonQ, D-Wave and Rigetti reached a combined value of $12.5bn. That has since fallen to $1.4bn.
Among the events to batter the quantum companies last year, IonQ was hit by a report from a short seller claiming its technology did not live up to its claims, while Rigetti founder Chad Rigetti was removed as chief executive before quitting the company late in the year.
Part of the problem facing the sector has been an excess of “hype” about the technology, said Constantin Gonciulea, chief technology officer of advanced technology at Wells Fargo. He compared the build-up of expectations around quantum to the crypto industry, as many non-experts have been drawn into the field and promises for the technology have far outgrown its potential in the near term. Despite this, companies working on the first quantum machines and software still insist that practical uses of the technology are just around the corner — while continuing to carefully avoid giving too precise a prediction about exactly when that will be.
David Rivas, head of engineering and product at Rigetti, said that the company still believed it would reach quantum advantage when its computers have “a few hundred to a few thousand qubits.” Even if they cannot match the performance of today’s supercomputers, they will still be useful if they cost much less, or if they can operate faster or with more precision, he said. For some quantum companies, the startling Chinese claim about online encryption was a sign that the technology’s big moment is drawing nearer. But for the doubters, the apparent impracticality of the research will serve as confirmation that quantum computing is still an impressive science experiment rather than a practical technology.
The quantum computing market could be worth up to $5 billion by 2025, driven by competition between the US and China, according to London-based data analytics fir GlobalData whose Patent Analytics Database reveals that the U.S. is the global leader in quantum computing. The analytics company notes that China is currently about five years behind the U.S., and the recently passed U.S. CHIPS and Science Act will enhance U.S. quantum capabilities while hindering China.
Sidebar; What is a Quantum Computer:
Unlike a classical computer, which performs calculations one bit or word at a time, a quantum computer can perform many calculations concurrently. Quantum computers use a basic memory unit called a qubit, which has the flexibility to represent either zero, one or both at the same time. This ability of an object to exist in more than one form at the same time is known as superposition. The concept of entanglement is when multiple particles in a quantum system are connected and affect each other. If two particles become entangled, they can theoretically transmit and receive information over very long distances. However, the transmission error rates have yet to be determined.
Because quantum computers’ basic information units can represent all possibilities at the same time, they are theoretically much faster and more powerful than the regular computers we are used to.
Physicists in China recently launched a quantum computer they said took 1 millisecond to perform a task that would take a conventional computer 30 trillion years.
The aforementioned U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August 2022, represents an escalation in the growing tech war between the U.S. and China. The act includes measures designed to cut off China’s access to US-made technology. In addition, new export restrictions were announced on October 10, some of which took immediate effect. These restrictions prevent the export of semiconductors manufactured using US equipment to China. Currently, the U.S. is negotiating with allied nations to implement similar restrictions. Included in the CHIPS Act is a detailed package of domestic funding to support US quantum computing initiatives, including discovery, infrastructure, and workforce.
Among the many commercial companies researching the technology, IBM, Alphabet (parent company of Google), and Northrop Grumman have filed the most patents, with a respective 1,885, 1,000, and 623 total publications.
Earlier this week, IBM unveiled the largest quantum bit count (433 qubits) of its quantum computers to date, named Osprey, at this week’s IBM Quantum Summit. The company also introduced its latest modular quantum computing system.
“The new 433 qubit ‘Osprey’ processor brings us a step closer to the point where quantum computers will be used to tackle previously unsolvable problems,” IBM SVP Darío Gil said in a statement.
The IBM Osprey more than tripled the qubit count of its predecessor — the 127-qubit Eagle processor, launched in 2021. “Like Eagle, Osprey includes multi-level wiring to provide flexibility for signal routing and device layout, while also adding in integrated filtering to reduce noise and improve stability,” Jay Gambetta, VP of IBM Quantum wrote in a blog post.
The company claims Osprey is more powerful to run complex computations and the number of classical bits needed to represent a state on this latest processor far exceeds the total number of atoms in the known universe.
Gambetta noted IBM has been following along its quantum technology development roadmap. The company put its first quantum computer on the cloud in 2016 and aims to launch its first 1000-plus qubit quantum processor (Condor) next year and a 4000-plus qubit processor around 2025.
The US government has committed $3 billion in funding for federal quantum projects, which are either being planned or already underway, including the $1.2 billion National Quantum Computing initiative. In addition, the U.S. government almost certainly conducts quantum projects in secret through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Security Agency (NSA).
The U.S. government has committed $3bn in funding to federal quantum projects that are either already in train or being planned. The biggest project is the $1.2bn U.S. National Quantum Computing Initiative. Of course, the military and security services will be assiduously tending their own quantum gardens.
As expected, considerably less is known about China’s advancements and investments in quantum technology. The country proclaims itself to be the world-leader in secure quantum satcoms. The CCP (which runs the People’s Republic of China or PRC) can devote huge resources to any technology perceived to give the PRC a strategic geo-political advantage – such as global quantum supremacy.
“Quantum computing has become the latest battleground between the U.S. and China,” GlobalData associate analyst Benjamin Chin said in a statement. “Both countries want to claim quantum supremacy, not only as a matter of national pride but also because of the financial, industrial, scientific, and military advantages quantum computing can offer. “China has already established itself as a world leader in secure quantum satellite communications. Moreover, thanks to its autocratic economic model, it can pool resources from institutions, corporations, and the government. This gives China a distinct advantage as it can work collectively to achieve a single aim – quantum supremacy.”
China has already developed quantum equipment with potential military applications:
- This year, scientists from Tsinghua University developed a quantum radar that could detect stealth aircraft by generating a small electromagnetic storm.
- In 2017, the Chinese Academy of Sciences also developed a quantum submarine detector that could spot submarines from far away.
- In December 2021, China created a quantum communication network in space to protect its electric power grid against attacks, according to scientists involved in the project. Part of the network links the power grid of Fujian, the southeastern province closest to Taiwan, to a national emergency command centre in Beijing.
Consider Alibaba’s innocuously named DAMO Academy (Discovery, Adventure, Momentum and Outlook), which has already invested $15bn in quantum technology and will continue to plough more and more money into the venture. The Chinese government has also invested at least $10bn in the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Science, whose sole purpose is to conduct R&D only into quantum technologies with “direct military applications.”
Photo: Shutterstock Images
Swiss company ID Quantique, a spin-off from the Group of Applied Physics at the University of Geneva, is launching technology to make satellite security quantum proof. The company was founded in 2011 and has more than a decade of experience in quantum key distribution systems, quantum safe network encryption, single photon counters and hardware random number generators. The latest additions to its portfolio are two extremely robust, ruggedized and radiation-hardened QRNG (Quantum Random Number Generator) chips designed and fabricated especially for space applications.
The generation of genuine randomness is a vital component of cybersecurity: Systems that rely on deterministic processes, such as Pseudo Random Number Generators (PRNGs), to generate randomness are insecure because they rely on deterministic algorithms and these are, by their nature, predictable and therefore crackable. The most reliable way to generate random numbers is based on quantum physics, which is fundamentally random. Indeed, the intrinsic randomness of the behaviour of subatomic particles at the quantum level is one of the very few absolutely random processes known to exist. Thus, by linking the outputs of a random number generator to the utterly random behaviour of a quantum particle, a truly unbiased and unpredictable system is guaranteed and can be assured via live verification of the numbers and monitoring of the hardware to ensure it is operating properly.
The two new space-hardened microprocessors, the snappily named IDQ20MC1-S1 and IDQ20MC1-S3, are certified to the equally instantly memorable ECSS-Q-ST-60-13, the standard that defines the requirements for selection, control, procurement and usage of electrical, electronic and electro-mechanical (EEE) commercial components for space projects. The IDQ20MC1-S3 is a Class 3 device, predominantly for use in low-earth orbit (LEO) missions. The IDQ20MC1-S1 is a Class 1 device, for use in MEO and GEO mission systems. IDQ is the first to enable satellite security designers to upgrade their encryption keys to quantum enhanced keys.
The QSMN infrastructure will be able to connect numerous customers across London, helping them to secure the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations over standard fiber optic links using quantum key distribution (QKD).
QKD is an important technology, playing a fundamental role in protecting networks and data against the emerging threat of cyber-attack using quantum computing. The London network represents a critical step towards reaching the
The QSMN is a three-node London exchange fiber optic ring using commercially available QKD hardware from Toshiba. BT provided fiber connectivity and “quantum-enabled” local exchanges.
German based optical network vendor ADVA is also involved in the QSMN. For the dedicated QKD “access tails,” BT used a commercially available Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect (OSA FC) solution from Openreach, the UK incumbent’s infrastructure arm. OSA FC was developed by ADVA.
Financial services firm EY, the network’s first commercial customer, will use the network to connect two of its sites in London, one in Canary Wharf, and one near London Bridge. It will demonstrate how data secured using QKD can move between sites and will showcase the benefits this network brings to its own customers.
BT is working with EY (a non paying customer) and others that want to try QSMN to work out which types of QKD services will be in demand and how the business case might pan out. That initiative will likely be done over a three-year period,
“It’s a commercial trial in the sense that it’s built on commercial kit,” Professor Tim Whitley, managing director at BT’s applied research division, told Light Reading.
“It’s also a commercial trial in the sense that, unlike many trials around, it is effectively integrated in and part of a national operator’s communications infrastructure. It is managed out of our national operations center at Adastral Park.”
BT and Toshiba in October 2021. BT will operate the network, providing a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over Openreach’s private fibre networks, while Toshiba will provide quantum key distribution hardware and key management software. In the network, QKD keys will be combined with the in-built ethernet security, based on public-key based encryption, which will enable the resultant keys to be used to encrypt the data.
Some recent QKD history:
- BT and Toshiba have been conducting QKD trials since 2013, including a recent collaboration to provide a point-to-point QKD link in Bristol between the National Composites Centre and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation.
- In April 2020, Leo Lehman wrote an article about New ITU-T SG13 Recommendations related to IMT 2020 and Quantum Key Distribution.
- In September 2020, Verizon said it was trialing QKD for encryption over Fiber Optic Links.
Howard Watson, CTO, BT stated: “Quantum-enabled technologies are expected to have a profound impact on how society and business operates in the future, but they are remarkably complex to understand, develop and build: in particular, ensuring that the end-to-end service designs meet the stringent security requirements of the market. I’m incredibly proud that BT and Toshiba have successfully united to deliver this unique network, and with EY as our first trial customer, we are paving the way for further commercial explorations for quantum technologies and their use in commercial, and societal applications in the future.”
Shunsuke Okada, Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Toshiba commented: “Both Toshiba and BT have demonstrated world-class technology development and leadership through decades of innovation and operation. Combining BT’s leadership in networks technologies and Toshiba’s leadership in quantum technologies has brought this network to life, allowing businesses across London to benefit from quantum secured communications for the first time.”
Preparation, technical deployment and testing for the network commenced in late 2021. This included equipment deployment in racks, adding security systems and resilience testing, and finally running and optimising the network. While Tuesday 26th April marked the official launch of the network, it has been running since early April, and will operate for an initial period of up to three years.
Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland Managing Partner for Technology, Media and Telecoms (TMT), commented: “Quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business, but presents potential risks. Quantum secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component of doing business in a digital economy. Our work with two of the world’s leading technology innovators will allow us to demonstrate the power of quantum to both EY and our clients.”
The UK Government’s “strategic intent” to develop a quantum-enabled economy was first published in 2020. It sets out a vision for the next 10 years in which quantum technologies will become an integral part of the UK’s digital backbone, unlock innovation to drive growth and help build a thriving and resilient economy, and contribute significant value to the UK’s prosperity and security.
The London network represents an important step to building a national network for quantum secured communications, which will stimulate the growth of a quantum ready economy in the UK.
Howard Watson continued: “This is a significant moment in the UK’s journey towards a quantum-enabled economy, but we’re not there yet. Further investment commitments will be required to broaden the study of quantum technologies that will contribute to this new economy, including quantum computing, quantum cryptography and quantum communications. We look forward to working with our government and industry partners to continue the momentum BT has started and shaping the UK’s quantum strategy.”
The technical collaboration for this network was conducted in BT’s Adastral Park labs in Suffolk, UK, and the Quantum technology Business Division of Toshiba, based in Tokyo, Japan and Cambridge, UK, where the quantum key distribution technology has been developed and is manufactured.
Verizon has begun testing quantum key distribution (QKD) [1.], a new encryption method that uses photon properties to protect subscriber data. The company says they are the first U.S. carrier to do so, although AT&T is also exploring quantum computing applications in partnership with the California Institute of Technology. Verizon said it sent encrypted streaming video from a 5G Lab to two East Coast offices.
Note 1. Unlike number-based encryption methods used today, QKD creates keys based on the quantum properties of photons, making it much harder for even advanced computing systems to crack. QKD could be applied to exchange a key between the two ends of a communication. QKD provides protection against the threat posed by quantum computing to current cryptographic algorithms and provides a high level of security for the exchange of data.
An article by ITU-T SG13 chair Leo Lehmann, PhD, described new ITU-T Recommendations related to IMT 2020 and Quantum Key Distribution. ITU-T SG13 has published two new recommendations for networks to support quantum key distribution (QKD)  :
- Y.3800 (Y.QKDN_FR) Overview on networks supporting quantum key distribution
- Y.3801 (Y.QKDN_req) Functional requirements for quantum key distribution networks
Y.3800 describes the basic conceptual structures of QKD networks as the first of a series of emerging ITU standards on network and security aspects of quantum information technologies. SG13 standards for QKD networks – networks of QKD devices and an overlay network – will enable the integration of QKD technology into large-scale ICT networks.
Complementing these activities, ITU-T SG17 standards provide recommendations for the security of these QKD networks.
Verizon is exploring the physics of the ultra small which could help protect encrypted network connections.
“A QKD network derives cryptographic keys using the quantum properties of photons to prevent against eavesdropping,” Verizon said. It’s also using a quantum random number generator to continuously generate encryption keys.
In the trial, Verizon said it used QKD to encrypt and send a video stream between its 5G Lab and two of its offices in Virginia and Washington DC. Specifically, live video was captured outside of three Verizon locations in the D.C. area, including the Washington DC Executive Briefing Center, the 5G Lab in D.C and Verizon’s Ashburn, Virginia office.
Using a QKD network, quantum keys were created and exchanged over a fiber optic network between Verizon’s locations. Video streams were encrypted and delivered more securely allowing the recipient to see the video in real-time while instantly exposing hackers. A QKD network derives cryptographic keys using the quantum properties of photons to prevent against eavesdropping.
Though the test was conducted over its fiber network, a Verizon representative told Mobile World Live the operator is also aiming to use the technology in their mobile networks.
Verizon also demonstrated that data could be further secured with keys generated using a Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) that, as the name suggests, creates random numbers that can’t be predicted. With QKD, encryption keys are continuously generated and are immune to attacks because any disruption to the channel breaks the quantum state of photons, which signals that eavesdroppers are present.
“The use of quantum mechanics is a great step forward in data security,” said IDC Analyst Christina Richmond, in a statement. “Verizon’s own tests, as well other industry testing, have shown that deriving ‘secret keys’ between two entities via light photons effectively blocks perfect cloning by an eavesdropper if a key intercept is attempted.
“Current technological breakthroughs have proven that both the quantum channel and encrypted data channel can be sent over a single optical fiber. Verizon has demonstrated this streamlined approach brings greater efficiency for practical large-scale implementation allowing keys to be securely shared over wide-ranging networks.”
Verizon chief product development officer Nicola Palmer stated the test was part of an effort to “discover new ways to ensure safe networks and communications” for consumers and enterprises. “Quantum-based technology can strengthen data security today and in the future,” she said.
Verizon outlined additional work focused on 5G security, including tests of a system using AI and machine learning to detect anomalies in the network and analyse cell site performance; network accelerators to mitigate increases in latency caused by security functions; and a credential management system for connected vehicles.