Canadian Experts Test ITMO Quantum Network

From September 25 to October 6, a group of world-class experts in quantum hacking from the University of Waterloo (Canada), under the guidance of prof. Vadim Makarov, analyzed the security of the quantum network created by ITMO University.
Canadian Experts Test ITMO Quantum Network

As result of a joint study, the researchers tested the system for potential vulnerabilities and offered ways to patch them, which is crucial to the practical introduction of the technology. 

Russia’s first urban quantum communication line embedded in an existing telecommunication infrastructure was launched in 2014 by the Quantum Communications company, established by the Quantum Information Centre of ITMO’s International Institute "Photonics and Optical Information Technology". In May of 2017, the same group of specialists, in collaboration with their colleagues from Kazan Quantum Center, successfully launched the first multi-node quantum network in Russia and CIS by uniting four nodes in different districts of Tatarstan’s capital.

ITMO University’s quantum network was based on a conceptually new approach - a method of single photon generation in which the signal photons are not emitted directly by a source but are generated on subcarrier frequencies, or sidebands, as a result of modulation of a carrier wave. This approach provides for several advantages, ensuring a high robustness to external effects on the communication channel and a higher capacity. The system allows to transmit quantum information over the distances exceeding 250 kilometers (the research results were published in the Optics Express journal last year).

Specialists from the Quantum Hacking Lab at the University of Waterloo, Canada, who analyzed ITMO University’s quantum network, are amongst the leading experts on attacks on quantum communication devices. For instance, the laboratory collaborates with the Swiss ID Quantique company, as well as other companies working in this field. The analysis was conducted by research associates Shihan Sajeed and Hao Qin, as well as PhD students Anqi Huang and Poompong Chaiwongkhot under the guidance of professor Vadim Makarov, the laboratory’s head.

“When we work with companies, we sign a non-disclosure agreement and get access to all the internal engineering documentation of a system. We’ve started working remotely a couple months ago. Our first step was to analyze the documents on the system that was created in ITMO University. The next stage was coming here to have the opportunity to personally communicate with the network’s engineers and developers so as to clarify additional details,” – explain Anqi Huang and Poompong Chaiwongkhot.

As Vadim Makarov adds, all of the currently existing quantum communication systems have different designs, and the protocol used at ITMO University is different from any of its counterparts. Because of this, the researchers needed more time to analyze the network’s security. Their results will serve as a basis for a report that the group plans to finish in a month’s time. The report will be given to ITMO’s specialists, who will continue to work on these issues in collaboration with experts from the University of Waterloo.

Today, it’s not enough to simply assemble a quantum network and say that it’s secure, explains Artur Gleim, head of ITMO’s Quantum Information entre.

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