Feeds

'Quantum network? We've had one for years,' says Los Alamos

Hiding its light under a concrete, titanium-lined bushel

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

The boffins at the Los Alamos National Laboratory are known as a secretive lot; a much understated lot, in fact. Rather than cause a fuss, researchers there have quietly published a paper showing they've had a flexible quantum network – something rather a lot of people are interested in – up and running for two and a half years.

Point-to-point encrypted quantum communications have been well-demonstrated as being possible over longish distances, but while Alice and Bob can talk to each other, a message can't be routed to Charlie, since the act of doing so destroys the integrity of the information. Metcalfe's Law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users it has, so point-to-point is rather, well, pointless.

There are several companies and research groups working on this, but there's been limited progress so far. But the team at Los Alamos think it's cracked this with a hub-and-spoke design they call network-centric quantum communications (NQC), and report that it's easy to run, reasonably scalable, and runs on relatively cheap hardware.

To get around the problem of routing quantum bits, the NQC hub (named Trent) decodes the incoming message, transmits it to the new spoke, reencodes it and fires it off. It handles encryption key distribution, and the system maintains the advantages of quantum cryptography while dramatically increasing the value of the network by connecting more users.

The other advantage of NQC is that the quantum cryptography transmitters (QKarDs) needed at the user nodes to communicate with the hub are relatively simple. For its first generation network, Los Alamos built matchbox-sized hardware units containing a random number generator and a laser, and say the design is relatively cheap and suitable for mass production.

A quantum transmitter from Los Alamos

Cheap and cheerful quantum kit

"In our NQC test bed, which we have operated continuously for 2.5 years, we have time-multiplexed Trent with three QKarD transmitters, Alice, Bob and Charlie, over 50km of single-mode fiber; larger numbers of clients could be accommodated with a combination of temporal and wavelength multiplexing," the paper states.

The hardware needed to run the operation isn't too onerous – the paper's authors say 100 QKarDs can be managed from a PC and more than a thousand if you use a server. The next-generation QKarDs will also include an updated quantum random number generator known as Velocirandor, which is capable of data rates well over 5Gbps.

It's not a perfect system. While it's relatively scalable within a locale, the hub and spoke system has inherent disadvantages on very large scales, and the authors acknowledge that if the hub is compromised in any way, the messages are insecure.

But it's a hell of a lot further along than anyone else is admitting to in public, and it's a credit to US national scientists and their sense of discretion that they kept it a secret for this long. As network bragging rights go, this takes some topping. ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Kingston DataTraveler MicroDuo: Turn your phone into a 72GB beast
USB-usiness in the front, micro-USB party in the back
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
BOFH: Oh DO tell us what you think. *CLICK*
$%%&amp Oh dear, we've been cut *CLICK* Well hello *CLICK* You're breaking up...
AMD's 'Seattle' 64-bit ARM server chips now sampling, set to launch in late 2014
But they won't appear in SeaMicro Fabric Compute Systems anytime soon
Amazon reveals its Google-killing 'R3' server instances
A mega-memory instance that never forgets
Cisco reps flog Whiptail's Invicta arrays against EMC and Pure
Storage reseller report reveals who's selling what
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.