Quantum communications and cryptography

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The link will be developed using existing telecommunications optical fibres with the addition of two portable quantum stations to be installed, one in Italy and one in Malta. In the long run, this project will help protect Maltese critical infrastructures and will pave the way for quantum communications to be used between Malta and Italy. Get the latest updates. Newsroom News.

What is quantum cryptography? It’s no silver bullet, but could improve security

Experts meeting at the University of Malta, April This makes it clear that there is increasing interest in standardization for quantum key distribution, and the window of opportunity for ETSI to lead such work is closing. There is now a critical mass of interested parties in Europe. Quantum cryptography has great potential to become the key technology for securing confidentiality and privacy of communication in the future ICT world and thus to become the driver for the success of a series of services in the field of e-government, e-commerce, e-health, transmission of biometric data, intelligent transport systems and many others.

Its power stems from the fact that quantum communication allows for a new primitive, which permits two parties to establish a secret key from a short pre-shared secret and a public exchange, i. Quantum cryptography is considered the only truly secure key-distribution technology except for secret courier , while conventional asymmetrical cryptography, which is almost exclusively used for key distribution nowadays, is likely to be rendered insecure by the advent of extremely powerful computers, including quantum computers.

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The security of quantum cryptography instead does not depend on the limitation of an attacker's computing power. It is secure against attackers with arbitrary classical or quantum computing power, if side channels are well controlled. Longer keys are the first line of defense against quantum encryption, and pretty much everybody is on board with that.

In fact, the bit version of the RSA encryption standard is no longer regarded as safe by NIST, which recommends bits as a minimum.

Longer keys make encryption slower and more costly, however, and the key length will have to increase substantially to stay ahead of quantum computers. Another option is to use symmetric encryption for the messages themselves, then use asymmetric encryption just for the keys.

Many researchers are also looking at ways to create new kinds of encryption algorithms that would still allow public and private keys but be proof against quantum computers. Quantum computers can do it, and there are already known quantum techniques that could solve the factoring problem and many similar approaches, says Woodward. The best solution could be a combination of post-quantum algorithms like lattice-based encryption for the initial communication to securely exchange keys, then using symmetric encryption for the main messages.


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Can we really rely on lattice-based encryption or similar algorithms to be safe? This is where the laws of quantum physics can come to the rescue.

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Quantum key distribution QKD is a method of sending encryption keys using some very peculiar behaviors of subatomic particles that is, in theory at least, completely unhackable. The land-based version of QKD is a system where photons are sent one at a time through a fiberoptic line.


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China is furthest ahead with QKD, with dedicated pipes connecting Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities. There are also networks in Europe.

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The company plans to expand to Boston and Washington, D. However, the technology is extremely slow and requires expensive equipment to send and receive the individual photons. The big breakthrough last year was that QKD systems no longer require special pipes, says Woodward. Turns out, it is real, and China has had a quantum communication satellite up and working for a couple of years now. The way that it works is that two particles become entangled so that they have the same state, and then one of these particles is sent to someone else.

Quantum cryptography, animated

Plus, the state of the two entangled particles, while identical, is also random. Now that the sender and the receiver both have the same random key, they can then use it to send messages using symmetric encryption over traditional channels. Neither ground-based nor satellite-based quantum key distribution is practical for general use since both require very specialized and expensive equipment.

It could, however, be useful for securing the most critical and sensitive communications.