News › Fraun­ho­fer IOF • First quan­tum-secu­red video con­fe­rence bet­ween two Ger­man Federal agencies

Initia­tive QuNET demons­tra­tes highly secure and prac­ti­cal quan­tum communication

Today, two Ger­man Federal agen­cies com­mu­ni­ca­ted via video for the first time in a quan­tum-secure man­ner. The QuNET pro­ject, an initia­tive fun­ded by the Ger­man Federal Minis­try of Edu­ca­tion and Rese­arch (BMBF) to deve­lop highly secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems, is thus demons­tra­ting how data sov­er­eig­nty can be gua­ran­teed in the future. This tech­no­logy will not only be important for governments and public aut­ho­ri­ties but also to pro­tect ever­y­day data.

It was a fore­taste of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the future – or rather, the »data secu­rity« of the future. Because when Federal Rese­arch Minis­ter Anja Kar­li­c­zek invi­ted mem­bers of the Federal Office for Infor­ma­tion Secu­rity (BSI) to a video con­fe­rence today, ever­ything loo­ked the same, at least for out­si­ders. Tog­e­ther with Andreas Könen, Head of Depart­ment CI »Cyber and IT Secu­rity« at the Federal Minis­try of the Inte­rior, Buil­ding and Com­mu­nity (BMI) and BSI Vice Pre­si­dent Dr. Ger­hard Schab­hü­ser, the minis­ter tal­ked via video stream.

And yet this video­con­fe­rence opens a new chap­ter in the highly secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the future. Because what the eye can’t see: The con­ver­sa­tion was not encryp­ted using con­ven­tio­nal methods but by means of light quanta. The trick is that if an atta­cker tries to access the keys to be gene­ra­ted, which are later used for data trans­mis­sion, the light par­ti­cles are mani­pu­la­ted. This mani­pu­la­tion is detec­ted tog­e­ther by the sen­der and recei­ver, thus pre­ven­ting an inter­cep­tion attempt. The detec­tion is based on phy­si­cal princi­ples. If an eaves­drop­ping attempt is dis­co­ve­red, the key is dis­car­ded and a new one is gene­ra­ted. By means of this stra­tegy, only pri­vate keys are kept and the­re­fore long-term secu­rity of the agreed keys is achie­ved. This sets a new mile­stone for data con­fi­den­tia­lity in the digi­tal world.

A new chap­ter for the highly secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the future

This so-cal­led »quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion« will become necessary in the light of future tech­no­lo­gi­cal deve­lo­p­ments: In the future, quan­tum com­pu­ters and new algo­rithms are expec­ted to be able to crack pre­viously used methods of data encryp­tion. Accord­ing to the motto »store now, decrypt later«, data can already be stored today and read later, e.g., with the aid of more power­ful computers.

This threa­tens espe­cially data that requi­res long-term pro­tec­tion, i.e., data that will still be of great value to hackers in the distant future. This inclu­des not only infor­ma­tion from governments and aut­ho­ri­ties, but also cor­po­rate secrets or per­so­nal health data of citizens.

Federal Minis­ter of Edu­ca­tion and Rese­arch Anja Kar­li­c­zek exp­lai­ned: »Quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion is one of the key tech­no­lo­gies that play a cru­cial role in IT secu­rity and can help us pre­pare for future thre­ats. This is so important because cyber secu­rity and cyber sov­er­eig­nty are pre­con­di­ti­ons for the sta­bi­lity of demo­cracy and also why I laun­ched the QuNET initia­tive two years ago. QuNET is an important dri­ver of the trans­la­tion of fin­dings from basic rese­arch on quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion into sys­tems that are sui­ted for ever­y­day use. Our objec­tive is to take advan­tage of the work of QuNET and the other pro­jects on quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion fun­ded by the Federal Rese­arch Minis­try to lay the foun­da­ti­ons for an eco­sys­tem of pro­du­cers and pro­vi­ders of quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion solu­ti­ons in Ger­many. In this way, we can ensure the swift trans­la­tion of inno­va­tive tech­no­lo­gies and com­pon­ents into broad application.«

In order to be able to pro­tect the pri­vacy of citi­zens as well as sta­tes and com­pa­nies in the future, there is already a great need for action today. It is not just a mat­ter of deve­lo­ping new and highly secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems based on quan­tum know-how but also of fin­ding ways to inte­grate this new tech­no­logy into exis­ting IT infra­st­ruc­tures (e.g., fiber optic cables) and to take estab­lis­hed cryp­to­gra­phic pro­ces­ses into account. There is also a par­ti­cu­lar chal­lenge when it comes to long distan­ces. Here, satel­li­tes can play a cen­tral role.

Long-term data secu­rity through encryp­tion with quantum

The QuNET initia­tive pur­sues the goal of enab­ling long-term data secu­rity. On the way to achie­ving this goal, today rese­ar­chers from all par­ti­ci­pa­ting insti­tu­tes rea­li­zed the first quan­tum-based video con­fe­rence bet­ween BMBF and BSI in Bonn, Ger­many. The focus of the QuNET work is the so-cal­led »quan­tum key exchange«, also known as QKD (short for »Quan­tum Key Dis­tri­bu­tion«). QKD enab­les the exchange of sym­metric keys whose secu­rity can be quan­ti­fied. The BSI is sup­por­ting the QuNET initia­tive and is pre­pa­ring accom­pany­ing and inde­pen­dent test cri­te­ria in inter­na­tio­nal cooperation.

At the end of last year, the rese­arch orga­niz­a­ti­ons invol­ved in the initia­tive – the Fraun­ho­fer-Gesell­schaft, the Max Planck Society and the Ger­man Aero­space Cen­ter (DLR) – pre­sen­ted important basic princi­ples for modern and secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion stan­dards. Accord­in­gly, the sci­en­tists have fur­ther deve­lo­ped the over­all archi­tec­ture for sys­tems for quan­tum-safe com­mu­ni­ca­tion, as well as pos­si­bi­li­ties for exch­an­ging quan­tum keys over long, medium and short distan­ces using free-space and fiber systems.

In the setup of the first quan­tum-based video­con­fe­rence bet­ween BMBF and BSI, mul­ti­ple free-space and fiber quan­tum chan­nels have been used. This cor­re­sponds to a more com­plex sce­n­a­rio than a con­nec­tion via a sin­gle quan­tum chan­nel. Bes­i­des the video con­fe­rence aspect of the demons­tra­tion, the setup was also used to pro­duce sci­en­ti­fic data which might give important insights for com­mu­ni­ca­tion in com­plex quan­tum secure net­works of the future.

Facts and figu­res about the QuNET initiative

Start: Fall 2019
Dura­tion: 7 years
Spon­sor: Ger­man Federal Minis­try of Edu­ca­tion and Research
Volume: 125 mil­lion euros fun­ding planned

  • Fraun­ho­fer Insti­tute for App­lied Optics and Pre­cision Engi­nee­ring IOF,
  • Fraun­ho­fer Hein­rich Hertz Insti­tute (HHI),
  • Max Planck Insti­tute for the Sci­ence of Light (MPL),
  • DLR Insti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons and Navigation


QuNET initia­tive: Ques­ti­ons and answers

Why this initiative?

Incre­a­singly power­ful digi­tal tech­no­lo­gies are impac­ting today’s data net­works and are more and more a threat to the secu­rity of the data and cri­ti­cal infra­st­ruc­ture of the modern infor­ma­tion society. This is dri­ven by the advan­cing deve­lo­p­ment of quan­tum com­pu­ting. With the abi­lity to com­pute and ana­lyze a mul­ti­tude of pos­si­ble opti­ons simul­ta­ne­ously, not only new oppor­tu­nities but also new risks are being crea­ted. Most of the cur­r­ently used core com­pon­ents of encryp­tion can be bro­ken with envi­sio­ned quan­tum com­pu­ters of the future. As a result, the government, orga­niz­a­ti­ons, the health­care sys­tem, and secu­rity-cri­ti­cal enter­pri­ses need to rethink and renew their secu­rity infrastructures.

What is the goal of the initiative?

The pri­mary goal of QuNET is the app­li­ca­tion-ori­en­ted deve­lo­p­ment of the phy­si­cal-tech­ni­cal fun­da­men­tals as well as the necessary tech­no­lo­gies for highly secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works under real con­di­ti­ons using quan­tum phy­sics. The initial focus is on prac­ti­cal app­li­ca­ti­ons for quan­tum-safe net­wor­king, for example of public aut­ho­ri­ties. Howe­ver, QuNET enab­les more than just secure com­mu­ni­ca­tion: The per­spec­tive app­li­ca­ti­ons of the trans­mis­si­ons of quan­tum sta­tes extend to net­wor­ked quan­tum com­pu­ters, the so-cal­led quan­tum internet.

What is the state of the art in quan­tum communication?

Quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion offers many poten­tial app­li­ca­ti­ons for the bene­fit of busi­ness and society. Of these, quan­tum key dis­tri­bu­tion (QKD) is pro­bably one of the best stu­died and most inter­na­tio­nally advan­ced examples.

How does quan­tum encryp­tion work?

Quan­tum encryp­tion takes advan­tage of the pro­perty of quan­tum par­ti­cles: they can­not be mea­su­red or copied without being noti­ced. For example, a quan­tum source gene­ra­tes light pul­ses that are exch­an­ged bet­ween two loca­ti­ons. From the results of a quan­tum mecha­ni­cal mea­su­re­ment, tam­pe­ring or inter­cep­tion of the light pul­ses would be detec­ted. Based on this, a key can be gene­ra­ted that is known only to the sen­der and recei­ver and can be used for encryp­tion. This method is also secure against any future attacks by a quan­tum com­pu­ter. To over­come lar­ger distan­ces, satel­li­tes with quan­tum sources can gene­rate quan­tum keys over inter­con­ti­nen­tal distan­ces, or future deve­lo­p­ments of so-cal­led quan­tum repeaters (cf. Q.Link.X) can be used.

Which rese­arch insti­tu­tes are invol­ved in the initiative?

  • The Fraun­ho­fer Insti­tute for App­lied Optics and Pre­cision Engi­nee­ring IOF, based in Jena, Ger­many, con­ducts rese­arch on the deve­lo­p­ment of light as a means of sol­ving a wide range of pro­blems and app­li­ca­tion sce­n­a­rios. The work of the rese­arch insti­tute, foun­ded in 1992, the­re­fore focu­ses on app­li­ca­tion-ori­en­ted rese­arch on light genera­tion, light gui­d­ance and light mea­su­re­ment. Tog­e­ther with rese­ar­chers from basic rese­arch and indus­try, inno­va­tive solu­ti­ons are deve­lo­ped that pro­vide a tech­no­lo­gi­cal advan­tage in sci­ence and indus­try and open up new fields of app­li­ca­tion for photonics.
  • Inno­va­tions for the digi­tal society of tomor­row are the focus of the rese­arch at the Fraun­ho­fer Hein­rich Hertz Insti­tute (HHI) in Ber­lin. Foun­ded in 1928, the insti­tute is a world lea­der in rese­arch on mobile and opti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works and sys­tems, as well as in the coding of video signals and data pro­ces­sing. Tog­e­ther with inter­na­tio­nal part­ners from rese­arch and indus­try, Fraun­ho­fer HHI works across the ent­ire spec­trum of the digi­tal infra­st­ruc­ture – from basic rese­arch to the deve­lo­p­ment of pro­to­ty­pes and solu­ti­ons. The insti­tute con­tri­bu­tes signi­fi­cantly to the stan­dards for infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­no­lo­gies and crea­tes new app­li­ca­ti­ons as a part­ner of industry.
  • The Max Planck Insti­tute for the Sci­ence of Light (MPL) covers a broad spec­trum of rese­arch, inclu­ding non­linear optics, quan­tum optics, nano­pho­to­nics, pho­to­nic crys­tal fibers, opto­me­cha­nics, quan­tum tech­no­lo­gies, bio­phy­sics and – in col­la­bo­ra­tion with the Max Planck Cen­ter for Phy­sics and Medi­cine – links bet­ween phy­sics and medi­cine. The MPL was foun­ded in Janu­ary 2009 and is one of over 80 insti­tu­tes of the Max Planck Society that con­ducts basic rese­arch in natu­ral sci­en­ces, bio­tech­no­logy, huma­nities and social sci­en­ces for the bene­fit of the gene­ral public. Today, almost 400 people from around 40 nati­ons work at the insti­tute. Some of the rese­ar­chers look back on deca­des of expe­ri­ence in the field of quan­tum com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They also use telecom tech­no­logy for the exchange of quan­tum keys, which allows the pro­ce­du­res to be quickly com­mer­cia­li­zed. In addi­tion, the rese­ar­chers from Erlan­gen have been inves­ti­ga­ting for more than ten years how the keys can be trans­mit­ted on the ground with laser light over several kilo­me­ters (known as a free-beam con­nec­tion) or by satel­lite over grea­ter distan­ces. The MPL is play­ing a major role in many large natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal pro­jects, also in coope­ra­tion with natio­nal industry.
  • The DLR Insti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons and Navi­ga­tion is dedi­ca­ted to mis­sion-ori­en­ted rese­arch in selec­ted areas of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons and navi­ga­tion. Its work ran­ges from the theo­re­ti­cal foun­da­ti­ons to the demons­tra­tion of new pro­ce­du­res and sys­tems in real-world envi­ron­ments and is embed­ded in DLR’s Space, Aero­nau­tics, Trans­port, Digi­tiz­a­tion and Secu­rity pro­grams. The insti­tute cur­r­ently employs around 200 people, inclu­ding 150 sci­en­tists, at its sites in Ober­pfaf­fen­ho­fen and Neu­stre­litz. The insti­tute deve­lops solu­ti­ons for the glo­bal net­wor­king of man and machine, for high-pre­cision and reli­able posi­tio­ning for future navi­ga­tion app­li­ca­ti­ons, as well as methods for auto­no­mous and coope­ra­tive sys­tems in trans­port and explo­ra­tion. In addi­tion, the insti­tute is con­cer­ned with cyber secu­rity. Focal points in this area include post-quan­tum cryp­to­gra­phy and the trans­mis­sion of quan­tum keys via satellite.


QuNET Office
Coor­di­na­tion of the QuNET-Initia­tive at Fraun­ho­fer IOF

Fraun­ho­fer IOF
Albert-Ein­stein-Str. 7
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