Several innovative projects led by scientists in the countries of the Alliance and partner countries are today opening up new prospects for harnessing the power of quantum technologies to prevent all interception and piracy of communications. The use of these technologies in the security and defense sectors could help secure the transmission of information for the future, protecting it against increasingly sophisticated hacking systems and contributing to the efforts that NATO deploys to maintain its technological lead.
Researchers study in the framework of research and development projects carried out under the NATO Science for Peace and Security (SPS) program the security aspect of the applications of quantum technologies in their three main fields, namely computing, sensors and communications. Computers and quantum sensors are raising the performance of these computing and telemetry systems to levels that could not be claimed until now. In the field of quantum communication, work carried out under the SPS program shows very promising results. These projects focus on the development of systems to encrypt and secure the transmission of information using quantum key distribution (QKD) and post-quantum cryptography (PQC). Because they prohibit any unauthorized access, these techniques are a response to the growing security concerns generated by new technologies such as quantum computers, machines capable of deciphering secret communications.
Quantum Key Distribution Trials
Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a method of quantum communication that allows decryption keys to be shared. The encrypted message is sent via conventional networks, while the keys to decrypt it are exchanged by quantum means, thus making any interception impossible. Only the recipient can therefore decode the message. Applied within the framework of an SPS project, this method made it possible to connect Italy to Malta by means of a Prototype QKD link using an underwater fiber optic cable, a first.
Another research project supported by the SPS program aimed to study QKD techniques for sending cryptographic keys between two points located several hundred kilometers away. At the same time, researchers from a Czech university are working on integrating QKD technology into a 5G network to determine whether this distribution could enhance the cybersecurity of future communication systems.
Demonstration of post-quantum cryptography
Unlike quantum key distribution, which uses physical quantum properties to provide information protection, post-quantum cryptography (PQC) uses cryptography and mathematical functions to secure communications. A group of scientists from different countries and working within the framework of the SPS program recently demonstrated that post-quantum cryptography makes it possible to transmit information in complete security, without a hacker being able to decipher it, even using a computer. quantum. Implementing a secure protocol, five research groups – respectively based in Malta, Slovakia, Spain, the United States and at NATO headquarters (Belgium) – managed to establish communication in a completely secure environment, without risk of intrusion.
In NATO’s new Strategic Concept, a document adopted at the Madrid Summit in 2022, the Allies recognize the crucial role that technology can play, and more particularly through emerging technologies and disruptive technologies (TE/TR), when it comes to shaping the future of the Alliance. To study the possibilities and risks associated with TE/TR, the SPS program supports research on technological trends in areas such as artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, bioengineering, and especially quantum technologies. In the future, the SPS projects dedicated to quantum technologies will study how to integrate quantum key distribution and post-quantum cryptography for an optimal and holistic security of the computing infrastructures in the Alliance.
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Securing communications with quantum technologies
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