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Quantum communication: Fraunhofer builds data connection for ministries

Monday, December 16, 2019
11:26 a.m.

After cyber attacks on the Bundestag and the federal data network, a completely new standard of data security is being tested with the support of the Chancellery and the Ministry of Research. So-called quantum communication is used in a pilot project by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft entitled QuNET, said Fraunhofer President Reimund Neugebauer of the news agency dpa. This is not based on mathematically-based strategies of cryptography, but uses an essential principle of action from quantum physics.

  

The new data line will therefore not be readable, according to Neugebauer. "You may be able to interrupt the data lines – but you cannot read them out unnoticed. When you measure a quant, it changes – that's part of the security principle."

  
In quantum communication, transmitted information is encrypted using fundamental laws from quantum physics. One problem, however, is that the transmission of quantum information through light particles, so-called photons, via optical fiber leads to significant line losses, which has so far limited the range to an order of 100 kilometers.

  
Quantum repeaters should help

  So-called quantum repeaters should now overcome this limit without security restrictions. "This technology still has a long way to go," says Neugebauer. "This makes transmission by satellite, as we research it at Fraunhofer, essential for useful ranges in quantum communication."

  
The efforts to improve the protection of data connections include the cyberattacks on the Bundestag and the federal data network. In the attack on the Bundestag in 2015, attackers had gained such extensive access that the Bundestag IT had to be replaced. In the attack on the federal data network that became known in February 2018, cyber spies attacked, among other things, the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. They are said to have captured data.

  
Offensive for a "bug-proof quantum network"

  The initiative of the Research Ministry and the Fraunhofer Society for a "bug-proof quantum network" had already been announced in May. At the time, research was being carried out into how the laws of quantum physics can be used for secure communication networks. The initial funding volume was EUR 25 million. The Max Planck Society and the German Aerospace Center were named as further partners.

  

According to the original announcement, the project should run for seven years and consist of three phases: First, according to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the hardware components are developed. The next step is the technological basis "for multi-user operation in heterogeneous networks". And in the third and final phase, the network of authorities based on quantum technology is to be implemented together with industry and federal network operators.

  In December, work on QuNet started with a "demonstration experiment on communication using quantum technologies" called QuNet-alpha. The experiment represents an "important milestone in the implementation of quantum communication in everyday systems", says an explanation website. It is about a quantum-secured video conference between two federal institutions.

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