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Move over Bond! Here comes Quantum Cryptography for the grid

February 14, 2013
By Anthony Capkun

February 14, 2013 – A Los Alamos National Laboratory quantum cryptography (QC) team says it successfully completed the first-ever demonstration of securing control data for electric grids using quantum cryptography.

Quantum cryptography provides a means of detecting and defeating an adversary who might try to intercept or attack the communications. Single photons are used to produce secure random numbers between users, and these random numbers are then used to authenticate and encrypt the grid control data and commands. Because the random numbers are produced securely, they act as cryptographic key material for data authentication and encryption algorithms.

At the heart of the quantum-secured communications system is a miniaturized QC transmitter invention (known as a QKarD) that is five orders of magnitude smaller than any competing QC device, say researchers. Jane Nordholt, the Los Alamos principal investigator, put it this way: “This project shows that quantum cryptography is compatible with electric-grid control communications, providing strong security assurances rooted in the laws of physics, without introducing excessive delays in data delivery.”

A late-2012 demonstration at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign showed that quantum cryptography provides the necessary strong security assurances with latencies that are at least two orders of magnitude smaller than requirements. Further, the team’s quantum-secured communications system demonstrated that this capability could be deployed with only a single optical fiber to carry the quantum, single-photon communications signals, data packets and commands.


The Los Alamos team is seeking funding to develop a next-generation QKarD using integrated electro-photonics methods, which would be even smaller, more highly integrated, and open the door to a manufacturing process that would result in lower unit costs.

PHOTO: The miniature quantum encryption transmitter at Los Alamos National Laboratory generates random cryptographic keys to encode and decode information to protect electric infrastructure control systems.

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