Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singtel have demonstrated a new technique to advance quantum key distribution (QKD). QKD is a protocol that transmits light particles, or photons, over a network, so that two communicating parties can agree on and generate an encryption key to establish a secure communication channel. The researchers succeeded in coordinating the travel of a pair of photons (one for each party) through different fibre network paths, controlling precisely the photons’ arrival times.
Without this technique, the photons may get out of sequence, making it difficult for both parties to agree on an encryption key. The breakthrough was demonstrated over Singtel’s fibre network, paving the way for wider QKD adoption and future commercialisation.
QKD is resistant to all types of computational hacks, including next-generation quantum computing threats. Any attempt to eavesdrop will increase the error rate of the photon sequence. This alerts the two communicating parties to an intrusion so that they can abort the session and start a new one. The researchers are now working on developing the findings for actual use cases where quantum-resistant secure communication is needed to provide long term security, such as government, military and bank services. In the future, QKD hardware could even be integrated with the internet to develop security solutions for online payment services such as internet banking and online shopping. As the smooth photon pair navigation enables high-precision clock synchronisation, this discovery can also be deployed in time-critical operations such as real-time big data analytics and financial trading.
“The breakthrough achieved by the NUS-Singtel Cyber Security R&D Lab not only strengthens our defences in a new cyber reality where threats are becoming more sophisticated, it also positions Singapore as a hub for global QKD research. We will continue developing and fine-tuning this technology with the aim of commercialising it through our global footprint of product engineering centres,” said Mr Bill Chang, CEO, Group Enterprise at Singtel.
“The positive results indicate that current commercial fibre networks are ready for quantum key distribution. This technology opens up many exciting possibilities for users that require strong and long- term security for their communication,” said Associate Professor Alexander Ling, the Principal Investigator of the project.
This project, conducted in Singapore, is driven by the NUS-Singtel Cyber Security Research & Development Laboratory. The lab is a public-private partnership supported by the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore, that was set up in October 2016 to develop cyber security capabilities and solutions. Experts from NUS’ Centre for Quantum Technologies contributed to the project’s breakthrough.