Quantum cryptography security gets first public demo

The transmission of data secured by quantum cryptography within a commercial telecommunications network has been demonstrated for the first timem in Austria. The project opens the way for ‘unbreakable’ encryption services for commercial use.

Run within the Integrated EU-Project SECOQC (Development of a Global Network for Secure Communication Based on Quantum Cryptography), the four-year project project to integrate of quantum cryptography into business applications was led by its Austrian Research Centers. Forty-one partner groups from 12 European countries were involved.

The network consists of six nodes and eight intermediary links with distances between 6km and 82km. Seven links utilise commercial standard telecommunication optical fibres, and one ‘free-space’-link along a line-of-sight between two telescopes. The links employ six different quantum cryptographic technologies for key generation, which are integrated into the network over standardised interfaces.

The network is installed in a standard optical fibre communication ring provided by SECOQC partners, Siemens AG Österreich in Vienna. Five subsidiaries of Siemens are already connected to the network. The operation of the quantum cryptographic network was visualised on a screen at the Siemens Forum in Vienna, and was streamed live over the Internet.

In essence, quantum cryptography includes sending streams of specially-prepared particles of light (photons), their measurement by the legitimate parties, and the subsequent post-processing of the measurement data. The output is the cryptographic key, consisting of identical random bit strings.

Potential eavesdroppers cannot gain any information on this key because quantum cryptography’s properties are due to the fundamental laws of quantum physics, which ensure that any measurement leaves indelible traces behind. These traces manifest themselves in an error-rate that can then be identified by the legitimate users.

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