|Quantum cryptography targets the data centre|
FibreSystems July 2006
Swiss manufacturer id Quantique has one goal in life: to bring quantum cryptography to mainstream optical communications. Heading towards this target, its Vectis link encryptor is soon to be installed in a data centre as part of a pilot project that allows enterprises to trial the technology for secure data transmission.
id Quantique is one of several quantum information start-ups - MagiQ Technologies of the US being another - that has announced commercial quantum cryptography systems. Elsewhere, Mitsubishi and NEC, working with the University of Tokyo, recently claimed a first in getting their quantum encryption systems to work together.
Vectis encrypts high-bit-rate data streams sent between sites that can be up to 100 km apart, using the off-the-shelf advanced encryption scheme (AES) algorithm. To make the transmission uncrackable, the firm uses quantum techniques to encode the cryptographic key that's needed to unscramble the AES-encoded data.
Sending the secret key to the recipient is known as quantum key distribution. "The weak point [in encrypted communications] is not the [AES] algorithm, it's keeping the key secret," says Marc Hentsch, sales engineer at id Quantique. To achieve this, the key's bits are sent as single photons. If a third party intercepts a transmission and observes the photons, quantum effects ensure that errors are introduced. Such errors tip off the sender and receiver that eavesdropping on the optical link has occurred (see "Quantum key distribution").
Vectis is based on id Quantique's single-photon photodetector. "We build these detectors and sell them to research groups," says Hentsch. Attenuating a light source until only a single photon gets through generates individual photons. "Tapping fibre is surprisingly simple," he adds. "This [quantum key distribution] approach offers a way of transmitting the key such that both parties can be confident that no one has intercepted it."
Hit the market
id Quantique has been selling its earlier Clavis encryptor product to R&D facilities for more than two years. "Vectis is our first commercial product that we are putting on the market," says Hentsch. Vectis, launched in April 2005, has yet to be deployed commercially, but Hentsch is confident that a first system will be deployed in the next couple of months. Hentsch believes that government and financial institutions will be early adopters. Banks, for example, must keep financial data secret for years. Transmissions must be secure, but banks must also ensure that encrypted transmissions are not intercepted and stored until a time when progress in algorithms, coupled with ever-more-powerful computing resources, enables the data to be cracked retrospectively.
id Quantique has teamed up with IX Europe, a data centre and hosting company, to bring its technology to market. Later this year the two firms will use Vectis to connect two Zurich-based data centres 10 km apart with a 100 Mbit/s link. One or two Vectis platforms will be used at each site, depending on whether system redundancy is used.
Major customers will be invited to see the benefits of secure communication services, including disaster-recovery backup, between the two sites, as well as a trial of Vectis. id Quantique is confident that at least one Swiss bank will start a pilot trial.