BT And Toshiba Showcase UK’s First Secure Quantum Communications

BT and Toshiba have showcased the UK’s first use of secure quantum communication at the telecoms company’s research and development centre in Ipswich.

The showcase demonstrates the use of quantum cryptography for communications over fibre optic cabling. By exploiting the quantum states of photons, the most visible elementary particles in the electromagnetic spectrum, the cryptographic technique can be used to communicate securely over normal fibre cables.

Quantum key distribution

The quantum cryptography technique being applied is known as quantum key distribution and works by one person sending the other cryptographic keys over the connection to establish a secure means in which to observe the states the photons are in and decode that into digital information.

The process is secure as quantum mechanics decrees that the states of quantum particles are only established when observed. As such, if someone was trying to intercept or listen in to the communications between two people using quantum communication they would have to interact with the photos being transmitted in fibre cabling.

Doing this would alter the state of the photons changing their encoding which would mean it would not make sense to the hacker. It would also mean the data being received by the two communicating parties would make no sense as the change states of the photons would not correspond with the cryptographic keys.

As such, they could easily detect that there is a someone attempting to snoop on their communications and take actions to mitigate the threat.

Quantum key distribution and quantum cryptography is more secure than traditional public key cryptography as it is based on the law of physics not mathematics, so it cannot be cracked using large amounts of computing power.

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Quantum future

Currently, quantum cryptography is being used to transfer confidential information between banks and off-site data centres.

Professor Tim Whitley, head of research for BT, and MD of Adastral Park, said the showcase stems out of the company’s research into how quantum cryptography can benefit businesses.

“Businesses and organisations today face a tide of ever increasing and highly sophisticated attacks from cyber criminals so ensuring the secure transfer of critical data is more important than ever,” he said.

“We’re confident that quantum cryptography will play an increasingly important role in helping companies guarantee that their secure communications remain water-tight in the future.”

Both BT and Toshiba have been exploring how to use quantum cryptography in existing fibre optic cables, so it would appear that the showcase is the fruit of those labours.

The two firms are also in the process of creating a quantum communications network between Cambridge, Bristol, London and Adastral Park, which is expected to be completed next year.

The exploration of how quantum mechanics can influence the technology world is well underway, with Microsoft researchers claiming quantum computers will be a reality within a decade, and IBM opening its quantum computing experiment to scientists and researchers around the world.

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Roland Moore-Colyer

As News Editor of Silicon UK, Roland keeps a keen eye on the daily tech news coverage for the site, while also focusing on stories around cyber security, public sector IT, innovation, AI, and gadgets.

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