Sidney’s Master, Professor Richard Penty, was part of a team that launched the UK’s first quantum network this week, in a step towards a new era of 'unhackable' communications.
Quantum links are secure because they rely on particles of light, or photons, to transmit encryption keys through the optical fibre. If a hacker were to attempt to intercept the communication, the quantum state of the individual photons changes, alerting the communicating parties to the presence of an eavesdropper.
The Cambridge Quantum Network was constructed by Professor Penty’s research group in the Engineering Department, the Centre for Photonic Systems. Researchers from the centre have been testing the ultra-secure network for the last year, allowing quantum keys to be shared between network nodes at high rates in order to securely and “unhackably” encrypt data, both in transit and in storage. Performance has exceeded expectations, with the highest recorded sustained generation of keys in field trials that include encryption of data transported at 200 gigabit/s rates – equivalent to 100,000 simultaneous video channels. This project was conducted in collaboration with Toshiba Research and Adva Networks and forms part of the Quantum Communications Hub, a wider research partnership involving eight UK universities.
This approach is likely first to be used to provide quantum security to encrypt highly sensitive information, such as trading, banking or medical data but ultimately will be applied in more consumer focussed applications such as online shopping to remove the risk of private details being intercepted.
The launch of the network is also featured on the University of Cambridge website.
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