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Research & Vision
Quantum Computing – Threat or Opportunity for Network Security?
How does quantum computing work exactly?
Quantum computing refers to the execution of calculations using quantum physical effects on special hardware known as quantum computers. Such computers are fundamentally different from classical computers as we know them today. A classical processor uses bits, i.e. the discrete states “0” or “1” to perform computing operations, whereas a quantum computer uses so-called qubits (quantum bits). The special feature of the qubit is that the (quantum) information it contains is a superposition of all states between “0” and “1”, which corresponds to a combination of all possible states at the same time. This is also known as superposition and, with appropriate algorithms, enables the simultaneous computation of very many states.
The techonology uses quantum physics to solve problems that are too complex or take a very long time for classical computers. However, the use of quantum effects is technologically an immense challenge because special conditions are required. For example, very low temperatures near absolute zero (about -273.15°C) are needed to suppress thermal effects that interfere with quantum effects. In particular, technological progress in recent years has contributed to the existence of the first quantum computers with multiple qubits today. Presently, many of the big tech companies are working on quantum computers and there is a real race to be the technology leader in terms of the number of qubits or the computations possible with them. An example is the 400 Qubit-Plus Quantum Processor. Solving complex problems in much shorter times with a quantum computer is called quantum supremacy. Google had caused quite a stir with this in 2019.
What is the influence of quantum computing on network mangement systems?
Quantum computing also has an impact on network management systems. There are now the first systems on the market that enable quantum key exchange via optical fibers, as they are installed in existing IT networks. However, large-scale deployment is currently not yet feasible, as the technology is limited in the length of the transmission link and often restricted to individual point-to-point applications with their own fiber pairs. Alternatively, there are also approaches to realize the key exchange via free-beam optical links. Here, longer distances are feasible, even across satellites, but the necessary technology is much more complex and environmental influences have a disruptive effect. A major challenge, therefore, is the combination of several systems to form interconnected networks with multiple participants and the integration into existing network infrastructure with parallel, classical data transfer. In addition to the actual device for generating the quantum keys, networks require additional systems for key management to enable secure key exchange across multiple nodes. A superordinate control and management level with a corresponding hardware or software solution is crucial for a functioning network.
Which role does Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) play?
As a manufacturer of network management software, this offers Infosim® an interesting perspective for entering this forward-looking market. From an economic point of view, the use of already-existing infrastructures for quantum cryptography is generally advantageous. For quantum secure communication, additional devices are needed to generate and distribute quantum keys. From the customer’s point of view, it would be extremely attractive to operate these devices and the possibilities and services they offer with the network management system that is already being used for classical operations. Starting with the integration of the devices into a common inventory, the configuration of the systems for operation, fault management and monitoring of performance and services, all functionalities for both classic network management and quantum key distribution (QKD) could be managed together. When using different solutions, there is always the challenge regarding interfaces and interaction.
In device technology, the focus is on increasing performance and miniaturization/integration to reduce costs. QKD devices currently cost around 100k euros. For this reason alone, mass application is not yet close to the market. An ongoing research topic is in material science for increasing detector efficiency. Partly, also new QKD protocols are developed to make QKD more efficient.
In both, research and applications, the focus is currently shifting from point-to-point (p2p) to multiple user connections in meshed networks. There are systems available on the market right now, which provide p2p-QKD via fiber to about 100km. But an integration and using such devices in a real network is much more complex, because you have to consider additional layers (for key sharing, qubits) and special key handling. Further, if you want to overcome more than 100km you need a trusted relay which are also QKD systems. This results in extra costs and could potentionally be a weak point. Alternatively, you have to use optical (visible) links via satellite which is also expensive. Quantum repeaters are the subject of a significant amount of current research.
Infosim®‘s research projects in the field of Quantum Computing
Currently Infosim® is working on a research project in the area of quantum computing. QuNET+ML is the first research project for Infosim® in the context of quantum cryptography with focus on quantum key exchange. It is one of the companion projects within the QuNET ecosystem, a research initiative funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to develop highly secure communication systems.
The goal of QuNET+ML is to optimize QKD networks using machine learning to enable the use of quantum key distribution in realistic network scenarios. Large industrial networks, such as in Industry 4.0 applications or in 6G communications, as well as networks in government environments are of particular interest. To ensure stable and secure communication, research will be conducted on how to optimize the distribution of quantum keys in such large networks. The main focus of the research is the application of machine learning methods as well as the integration and testing of these in suitable test tracks for the demonstration of quantum communication.
To achieve this goal, Infosim® collaborates with several partners. These are ADVA or, since late 2022, ANS (ADVA Network Security GmbH), a manufacturer of devices for optical data transmission, the Computing Center of Friedrich Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen, an IT service provider of a large scientific institution, Christian Albrechts University (CAU) Kiel and the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute (HHI) Berlin as scientific research partners, and the German Research Network (DFN-Verein e.V.) and Deutsche Telekom as associated partners.
The partners in QuINSiDa are KEEQuant GmbH from Fürth, a start-up and manufacturer of QKD and KMS (Key Management) systems, BESCom GmbH from Hamburg, a system house for individual mobile communications, TelcoTec GmbH as a developer of security systems, and the two Fraunhofer Institutes IOF from Jena and IPMS also Dresden as research institutes for the systems LiFi (IPMS) and QKD (IOF).
What influence will quantum computing have on StableNet®?
Quantum Computing as such cannot be integrated into StableNet®, because it is a computer technology that requires special algorithms and does not offer a direct connection point for StableNet®. There are efforts for a quantum internet, which connects several quantum computers to each other to form a network. The idea is to transfer quantum states from one quantum computer to another. Ultimately, one uses mechanisms similar to quantum key exchange (e.g., entanglement) to transfer quantum states over an existing fiber optic network. (The Netherlands is very much leading and driving this, https://qutech.nl/research-engineering/quantum-internet/).
What Infosim® is working on and wants to implement within QuNET/QuINSiDa is a management approach to quantum key exchange, whether over fiber (QuNET) or free-space (QuINSiDa). The question is how to integrate new technologies and systems into existing networks (interfaces, protocols) and how to monitor and, if necessary, control the associated quantum key exchange service. This then includes communication with a cryptography unit that uses the quantum keys to then encrypt or decrypt the data or application of an (end) user.
As you see, StableNet® is not only a Network and Service Management platform for today but continues to push the envelope of data safety and cybersecurity through research into such topics as QKD to the next level and is therefore well prepared for managing future (quantum) networks.
Quantum computing is an exciting field that presents us with many challenges in terms of network security. It’s important to put the technology to work for us and find solutions that better secure valuable data.
Dr. Stefan KremlingSenior R&D Engeneers @ Infosim® GmbH & Co. KG
As a R&D Engineer, Stefan is working on several national and international research projects with the focus on the future of automated network & service management. Before joining Infosim® in 2022, he was working as a R&D Engineer at several positions in research institutes as well as industry. With his strong background in Physics, where he holds a PhD from University of Würzburg, he is mainly responsible for all topics relating quantum information processing and technology.