Also thanks to Italy, Europe will have its own quantum transmission network, a “Quantum communication infrastructure” capable of guaranteeing ultra-secure communications and the integrity of the data transmitted between government institutions and critical infrastructures throughout the European Union. A sort of “Quantum Internet”, they say to Leonardo, the Italian company in which the state has a share that develops defense systems. And this is precisely one of the keys to reading the announcement just given: the defense and security of communications both among humans and among the billions of intelligent objects that will populate our daily lives.
The company is tackled at a European level by the companies united in the EuroQCI consortium and, as explained by Lucio Valerio Cioffi, general manager of Leonardo: “The central element is the possibility of using quantum technologies to exchange cryptographic keys, guaranteeing total security of communications in the management of an enormous amount of data. “The first use of the EuroQCI network will be the quantum key distribution (QKD) service, which will transmit the encryption keys through quantum communication channels both on terrestrial optical fiber and on space laser links.
How quantum communication works and why it is safe
Data representation based on quantum physics rather than classical physics opens up new scenarios for both communications and data processing. Quantum computers are in fact characterized by greater computing power and speed and, connected to simulators and quantum sensors, will allow unprecedented analysis and prediction capabilities in total safety. “These computers could also be used to subvert the cryptographic systems most used today, but post-quantum cryptographic techniques are already developing to defend us, while quantum communications allow the secure distribution of cryptographic keys to encrypt and decrypt them,” says the teacher Marco Baldi of the Polytechnic University of Marche. A level of security made possible by the fact that the distribution technique used allows you to transmit a secret key from one user to another in a condition of perfect secrecy from a mathematical point of view because the quantum characteristics of the physical phenomena used allow you to find out if someone has tried to intercept the keys.
Let’s explain it better: in quantum communication, the recipients are able to understand if a message has been decrypted or not because the quantum particles that make up the message cannot be “measured” without altering the information they contain: the single photons, once intercepted, lose in fact their information content for the laws of quantum mechanics at the physical level, laws that govern the transmission of weak signals inside optical fibers. Six photons that carry the message arrive in the same state in which they were sent, it means that no one has tried to intercept it. Conversely, if they arrive in a different state it means that the information has been picked up by someone or something and the message is no longer secure. At this point the procedure is repeated until it is certain that an attack has been avoided.
Qubit and algorithms: the new frontier of information technology
For Alessandro Zavatta first researcher of the National Institute of Optics of the National Research Council: “The basic configuration of a quantum communication network is key exchange, a ready-made technology that allows ultra-secure communications. But if one connects quantum computers to quantum sensors, he ends up creating a new technological ecosystem that is still unexplored and to be built, but with extraordinary potential. “
Quantum computers today have limited capabilities because they work with few qubits (“quantum bits”), as were the first 16-bit computers of the past. They now have few qubits but in the future they will have the equivalent of the bits of modern computers, but capable of developing a drastic increase in computing power. Second Zavatta “When we connect them efficiently in a network, this ability to encode information will multiply dramatically, allowing distributed and secure computing power thanks to the superposition of quantum states”.
Professor Baldi explains the concept better: “In quantum computers, instead of bit conventional, binary information units, represented as 0 and 1, and similar to the two states “open” and “closed” of a switch, the qubit, basic elements of quantum information that are in a superposition state capable of representing both the value 0 and the value 1 at the same time “. A bit like the Schrödinger’s cat locked in the box that is both alive and dead until we open it to find out how it is.
Baldi, who teaches cybersecurity and cryptography, adds: “On the one hand, this quantum state of matter is so delicate that any measurement operation causes its deterioration, and this is the basis of the perfect security achievable by quantum key distribution. On the other hand, the qubits in the superposition state can be processed by quantum computers which can thus perform calculations and algorithms in a natively parallel way that would require many repetitions on a classical computer, drastically accelerating their execution. ” Clear, right?
The role of basic research
Previously, it was the National Institute of Optics of the National Research Council together with others who demonstrated the quantum distribution of secret keys in a secure manner on a private interception-proof channel. In this case, quantum communication was only used to produce and distribute cryptographic keys and not to connect quantum technology devices such as computers and sensors.
With the project involving Leonardo, the National Research Council and the National Institute of Metrological Research for Italy, in the near future it will be possible to distribute messages on high-speed networks of quantum computers. To develop the initiative, Leonardo created a dedicated ‘Quantum’ Laboratory within the Leonardo Labs network. But the research laboratories of our national bodies are already at the forefront on this issue and were the first to experiment with this type of communication on the Italian quantum backbone that connects Turin to Matera.
The consortium selected by the European Commission also includes Airbus, Orange, PwC France and Maghreb, and Telespazio. EuroQCI will integrate quantum technologies and systems into terrestrial fiber optic communications networks and will include a space segment that will ensure full coverage across the EU and beyond. The ultimate goal is to protect Europe’s cryptographic systems and critical infrastructure, parliaments, air traffic, healthcare facilities, banks, ports and energy networks from cyber attacks conducted every day by both criminal gangs and rogue states.