How Europe prepares for the quantum leap in the digital security of its communications

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In the near future, quantum technologies will bring advances that are impossible to achieve with current methods. Among these advances we can mention ultra-secure communications networks thanks to quantum technology that offers much greater security than traditional security methods. cryptographycryptography traditional. This technology is based on the principles of quantum physics, which allows you to create keys to cryptographycryptography unique and inviolable.

In Europe, the European Commission, with the support ofEuropean Space AgencyEuropean Space Agency (ESA), is developing a communications infrastructure for the entire European Union based on quantum technology, called EuroQCI. This infrastructure will include a terrestrial segment made up of optical fiberoptical fiber connecting strategic locations spread across EU member countries, as well as a space segment based on a network of encrypted EU satellites: the Iris2 project (Infrastructure for satellite resilience, interconnectivity and security).

Europe is acquiring a quantum telecommunications infrastructure

Testing and evaluation infrastructure

In this context, the European Commission assigned the Nostradamus consortium, led by Deutsche Telekom, the responsibility of building a testing infrastructure to evaluate quantum key distribution devices from European manufacturers. Specifically, Nostradamus will make it possible to evaluate and certify technologies and services based on the distribution of quantum keys developed in the EU, in order to guarantee users that they will not be vulnerable to attacks. The objective is to assess compliance with the standards of different European technologies (architectures, protocolsprotocolsetc.), safety and product specifications (characteristics, performance, reliability, etc.), with a view to their accreditation at European level and their use within the scope of EuroQCI.

Did you know ?

Quantum key distribution uses the principles of quantum mechanics to secure communications. Keys to decrypt information are sent using single photons. Any attempt to intercept these photons leaves a trace on their physical state and indicates that the transmission may be intercepted. This technology guarantees extremely secure data exchanges. QKD represents the Final of cybersecurity.

A word from Joan Mazenc, director of the Center for Information Technology Security Assessment (Cesti) at Thales. As part of Nostradamus, Thales must create an attack laboratory designed to respond to quantum threats. This laboratory will define methods for evaluating terrestrial key quantum devices based on fiber optic technology.

Futura: Why build a testing infrastructure?

Joana Mazenc: The advent of the quantum computer, expected in the next 5 to 10 years, today threatens the security of communications. Sensitive exchanges between States or organizations, today encrypted by conventional means and collected in InternetInternet by foreign powers could be deciphered tomorrow, and certain secrets to be protected for decades would then be revealed. The risk is real and the global community has been working for many years to protect the secrecy of communications in the face of quantum computers.

Among the different areas of work are post-quantum cryptography based on conventional computing and new mathematical problems supposedly robust for quantum computers, but also the establishment of keys using quantum physics. The latter promises inviolable exchanges, based on the principle of quantum physics according to which the observation of a communication disturbs the measurements, making any attempt to spy on the transmission detectable, guaranteeing ultimately the secret of the exchange between two interlocutors. These exchanges occur at both ends of the same optical fiber, within a limit of several tens of kilometers, but they can also rely on a satellite connection to extend the range.

“Quantum computing is at the heart of States’ strategic challenges”

Europe has invested massively in the last 4 years in this topic as part of the EuroQci project, almost 180 million euros, in order to develop a ecosystemecosystem robust scientific and industrial, to promote theemergencyemergency of national champions and allow the upcoming establishment of a secure communication network between Member States, based on European technologies. Terrestrial connection links, limited by fiber optic distance, will be used for national or cross-border exchanges, while long-distance exchanges, interstate or connection abroad, will rely on the new constellation of Iris satellites that will emerge in the coming years.

Where does this European Nostradamus project come from…?

Joana Mazenc: Effectively. The development of solutions, which will carry sensitive interstate communications, requires strong guarantees in terms of security, guarantees that only Member States’ security agencies, such as the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (Anssi) in France, will be able to deliver. The Nostradamus project, with a budget of 16 million euros and recently launched by the European Commission, was designed to provide Europe, within 4 years, with a center of excellence capable of evaluating the safety of equipment that implements these technologies in the face of the most advanced attacks and threats, which only a state actor would be capable of implementing. This cutting-edge laboratory, created by a large consortium bringing together internationally renowned researchers and industrialists, will be developed by Thales in Toulouse, in the heart of the European space ecosystem, before being transferred in 2027 to a location that the European Commission still maintains. secret.

This state-of-the-art laboratory will be developed by Thales in Toulouse, in the heart of the European space ecosystem, before being moved in 2027 to a location that the European Commission still keeps secret

What does this testing infrastructure consist of?

Joana Mazenc: The infrastructure has two main pillars.

The first consists of defining the documentary corpus that will allow a security assessment to be carried out. It is a set of methods and processes that allows the rigorous evaluation of equipment, in accordance with a global standard, the “common criteria” and based on the “state of the art”, namely all known attacks. This work will be carried out in partnership with European government agencies in order to position the expected level of security.

The second is the laboratory that will make it possible to experimentally measure the robustness of the products subjected to evaluation, focusing on the specificity of secure communications solution systems, namely the quantum link. This will take the form of several electro-optical testbeds that will allow us to reproduce attacks that an adversary with access to the optical fiber connecting two sensitive locations could imagine.

Is it about testing and validating a whole series of technologies and protocols already chosen or is it about testing different “solutions” to see which would be the most appropriate?

Joana Mazenc: The aim of the project is to prepare for the European Commission a complete infrastructure (laboratory, methods, processes) to measure the security level of quantum secure communication solutions intended for approval for government use. The goal is not to select THE best solution in terms of security, but to allow all product providers to validate, through an assessment, whether their solution is secure enough for government use in Europe. The level of safety to be achieved will be defined by state bodies, and the laboratory will make it possible to experimentally measure the achievement of this level.

On the TRL scale, at what levels are technologies involved?

Joana Mazenc: The laboratory will aim to test, over the next 4 years, “industrial” products that are mature enough to be used by the government. These are, therefore, products with a high TRL (7 and higher) (Technological readiness level, editor’s note) which will be subject to long-term evaluation. Additionally, a positive review will be required to reach TRL 9.

Compared to the United States, China and Russia, what is Europe’s position in this area?

Joana Mazenc: In this global competition, China came out ahead by demonstrating quantum communication via satellite in 2016, but Europe is very well placed and has been investing in the subject for several years, either directly, as is the case with the Nostradamus project, or by relying on manufacturers. like Thales, which position quantum communications networks in their development strategy. Competition will intensify in the coming years and the United States has also decided to invest through its Department of Energy (DoE, analogous to the CEA in France).

Regarding the level of security and the resistanceresistance to cyberattacks, the details are obviously kept secret, but Europe can be proud of having top security researchers. The consortium created by Deutsche Telekom, theAustrian Institute of Technology (AIT) and Thales bring together the majority of these experts and researchers, who will make Europe a leader in this field.

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