It’s Probably the Most Advanced Quantum Network in the United States
Tennessee Utility Uses Quantum Tech for Cybersecurity
Excerpts and salient points ~
+ Cybersecurity is a top priority of the U.S. Department of Energy, which is funding the research to help guard against hackers threatening to mess with America’s power grid. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response with a $28 million annual budget to research technologies that help prevent, detect and mitigate cyberattacks, with an emphasis on communication and cloud-based operations.
“This is probably the most advanced quantum network in the country, especially considering that this is in a real utility environment,” said Nicholas Peters, group leader for the Quantum Science Research Group at ORNL who first came to EPB four years ago as part of EPB’s Engineer Scholars program. “If something is secure without regard to computing (like with quantum technology) you don’t have to worry about advances in computer power breaking your algorithm and compromising security.”
+ researchers brought to EPB’s distribution facility a variety of lasers, electronics and detectors to direct infrared light down some of EPB’s unused optical fiber to show how three different quantum encryption systems could be used on an electric grid infrastructure. During the test, the researchers sent and received a series of numbers known as a key using the quantum key distribution, or QKD, protocol, which virtually guarantees that nobody can tamper or alter the messages.
+ The sender beams single infrared photons oriented in different directions—polarizations—and a receiver measures those orientations. In quantum mechanics, if you measure a photon’s polarization, you instantly alter it from one state to another and any hack attempt is immediately known.
+ “We’re sending single photons, or particles of light, on which we encode quantum information,” said Dr. Raymond Newell, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. “By measuring and extracting that information, we’re able to generate secure data, like passwords for the system. They are not based upon mathematical complexity like most encryptions, but rather the underlying laws of physics.”
+ The quantum approach still has technical problems on a real grid operating with transformers, switches and thousands of miles of wires. Photons can now only be sent about 100 miles or so on fiber-optic cable before their quantum properties change, so long-distance transmission connections still face some challenges.
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