QKD is a protocol that transmits photons over a network so that communicating entities can agree on, and generate, an encryption key to set up a secure channel for communications.
The researchers' success ensured that the photons stayed in sequence, making the generation of an encryption key painless, the two organisations said in a statement. The technique was demonstrated on the Singtel fibre network.
“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, [but] it also positions Singapore as a hub for global QKD research," said Bill Chang, chief executive, Group Enterprise at Singtel.
Dr Jia Xu, R&D manager from Trustwave, Singtel’s cyber security subsidiary, and Soe Moe Thar, a research assistant at the Centre for Quantum Technologies at NUS, with some of the hardware being developed for advancing quantum technology at the NUS-Singtel Cyber Security R&D Lab.
The statement said QKD was resistant to computational hacks, including next-generation quantum computing threats and attempts to eavesdrop would increase the error rate of the photon sequence.
This, in turn, would alert the two communicating parties to an intrusion so that they could abort the session and start a new one.
The NUS and Singtel said the researchers were 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.
They said in future, QKD hardware could even be integrated with the Internet to develop security solutions for Internet banking and online shopping. As the smooth photon pair navigation enables high-precision clock synchronisation, this discovery could also be deployed in time-critical operations such as real-time big data analytics and financial trading.
“The positive results indicate that current commercial fibre networks are ready for quantum key distribution," said Associate Professor Alexander Ling, the principal investigator of the project. "This technology opens up many exciting possibilities for users that require strong and long- term security for their communication.”
The project was conducted by the NUS-Singtel Cyber Security Research and Development Laboratory, 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 were also involved.
The findings were published in the Applied Physics Letters journal in April.