Security

Minister unveils 2010 quantum security

A quantum cryptography system to secure communication channels during the World Cup was officially launched by minister of science and technology Naledi Pandor.

The system will secure the network linking the Moses Mabhida stadium and the Joint Operation Centre, in Durban.

According to the Centre for Quantum Technology (CQT), at UKZN, which developed the system in partnership with the eThekwini Municipality, the aim is to provide ultra high data security, including telephone, Internet, video, data and e-mail traffic traveling across the fibre optic link at up to 1 Gigabit per second.

The CQT says that the quantumStadium project is the first public global event to use a quantum-based encryption solution. This network carries voice, e-mail and data traffic between the two buildings.

“I'm excited by the quality and innovative research that has developed at UKZN. It's encouraging to note that government's call to increase innovative research in science and technology at universities is being acted on,” says Pandor.

Technological advancement

Head of the CQT professor Francesco Petruccione says: “SA has the potential to lead Africa through advancements in science and technology. Global milestones, such as the quantumStadium project, entrench us as world-class players in research and development.”

Since 2008, the City of Durban has been positioned to become the Smart City of Africa, according to the CQT. It adds that this vision includes the development of an optical fibre communication backbone to provide citizens with e-services such as online learning, health advice, Internet business solutions, public sector productivity tools and surveillance.

These facilities will increase the dependence on online communication and the CQT adds that systems like this were proposed to enhance this experience with communication security solutions.

City manager Dr Michael Sutcliffe believes that quantum information and communication technology will not only boost the transformation of the municipality into a high-tech information-driven organisation, but also turn Durban into an incubator for future technologies.

According to Abdul Mirza, a physicist at the CQT, using quantum cryptography would ensure that Durban has the most technologically advanced method of communication security. “Quantum cryptography shifts the security basis away from algorithmic procedures to a physical process bound by the laws of physical science.

The city's vision is to extend this solution to the private sector, in turn transforming Durban from Africa's Smart City to the world's first quantum city, according to the CQT.

Secure communication

Mirza says that this initiative uses quantum cryptography, or more accurately quantum key distribution (QKD) to allow for secure communication.

Johann van der Merwe, part of the advisory for PricewaterhouseCoopers, adds that QKD is used to establish shared, secret keys in support of encryption.

“Quantum cryptography encodes information into a quantum system, which is then sent to the receiver. This differs from conventional cryptography that uses 'complex' computer algorithms that are hard to reverse in order to scramble the information,” says Mirza.

Van der Merwe says that two communicating parties will know if there is any interference in their communication because the principle which QKD is based on states that anyone measuring a quantum system will disturb it. “This means you cannot interfere with the channel without introducing noise which may be detected by the communication parties, if the system is correctly implemented.

Shortfalls

Van der Merwe adds that communication can still be at risk, since many attacks on communication systems are not on the methods used to protect information in transit.

“Quantum cryptography also cannot provide, for example, authentication of the communication parties so you need a conventional authentication scheme to secure a QKD implementation; after the key has been shared it falls back on conventional cryptography. Quantum cryptography only prevents eavesdropping on the communications channel so it is still possible to eavesdrop at the end points.”

He also says that quantum cryptography does not provide network security or computer security. Because of this, Van de Merwe says that more security measures need to be in place at the stadium, alongside this system.

“QKD only provides secure key establishment, which is only one of many security building blocks needed to secure a communication system.”

Unnecessary?

Van der Merwe and director of Information Security Group Africa Karel Rode say that there are certain factors that will determine whether this system is needed or not.

Van der Merwe says that there will be nothing wrong with using it if the system is correctly implemented.

“I will only be able to justify such a technology once I determine the 'value' of the information that we need to protect, the threat potential and frequency, and through that derive the value proposition of such a technology compared to something that is better known and easy to maintain after deployment, says Rode.

Rode does not see the practical use for such an excessive solution to deliver potentially a very high level of protection to data in motion. “This protection level only has value to time sensitive information while it is in motion, as it is very hard to force compliance to third party policies once data has moved out of my/our control.”

In terms of World Cup needs, Van der Merwe says that security systems based on conventional cryptography that are properly designed and implemented will be adequate. He also says that the cost of a system of this nature as opposed to a conventional one will be difficult to justify.

But he adds that this system symbolises advancement since the project is moving into a new stage of security.

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