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Is the world ready for 'complete privacy'?

QUANTUM COMMUNICATION DEVICES

By Biswajit Choudhury

Quantum communication devices being explored by Indian firm Srei Infrastructure Finance to protect information against the upcoming threat posed by development of quantum computing also present major philosophical dilemmas arising in a future scenario of complete privacy, an expert here has emphasised.

“The world is not prepared for total privacy,” Serguei Beloussov, Chairman of the Board of the Russian Quantum Centre (RQC), told IANS on the sidelines of a global conference here on quantum technologies, organised by the RQC.

“Most governments the world over control their populations through control over information. So, if information becomes completely private, they would lose this control,” said Beloussov, a Russian-born Singaporean entrepreneur, who is also the Co-founder and Chairman of global data protection company Acronis, elaborating on the flip side of quantum communications, or quantum cryptography, being developed by RQC.

Quantum computing, based on the ability of sub-atomic particles to exist in more than one state at any time, allows operations to be done much quicker, using less energy than classical computers. The high cost and complexity of research, however, imply that industrial use of this exponentially more powerful computer is still some time away.

Beloussov points to a major function of quantum computing of breaking cryptographic codes, which makes it potentially a major weapon in the hands of hackers. It is in this regard that the RQC has worked at a pre-emptive level to develop quantum communications, or quantum cryptography, to secure systems against the threat posed by quantum computers.

In the background of recent cyber attacks that affected networks across the world, Russia, earlier this year, announced the development of the world’s first quantum “blockchain” which allows using a quantum cryptography and quantum data transfer system to protect databases from hacking.

RQC says this device will be ready for industrial use by early next year.

According to Beloussov, information security is a much broader issue than that provided by quantum cryptography.

“Now, we have a situation where the Chinese are eavesdropping on the Americans, the Americans are doing the same with the Chinese and both are aware that the other party is listening in,” Beloussov said.

“But imagine a situation where this would not be possible with quantum communication, where total information security is ensured using the laws of quantum physics. This raises serious philosophical issues about the commercialisation of total privacy,” he added.

Beloussov, who also founded Rolsen Electronics as a joint venture with Vikash Shah of the Amoli Group, gives the analogy of wolves and deer, to explain this security dilemma.

“It’s like if in an area with populations of both wolves and deer, if one is much reduced and even eliminated, then the number of the other rises alarmingly and the balance is lost,” the expert explained.

The quantum ‘blockchain’ devised by RQC creates special blocks which are signed by quantum keys, rather than traditional digital signatures. The quantum keys are generated by combining quantum key distribution (QKD) network, which guarantees the privacy of the key using the laws of quantum physics.

The quantum-secured ‘blockchain’ works as a decentralised distributed database to protect against malicious modifications of things like cryptocurrencies and ‘smart contracts’. Transactions must be signed by initiators of the digital signature, while blocks are linked and secured by hash functions.

Among other things, it permits protection of financial infrastructure like payment encryption of documents and tracking of financial transactions of banks, as well as securing of “intelligent” infrastructure such as smart grids.

The technology has already been tested by the RQC in one of Russia’s largest banks — Gazprombank — by creating a three-node quantum network between the branches of the bank in the Moscow region. RQC is now working to expand the capability to other Russian and international financial services organisations.

Quantum technology has other major uses like for quantum ‘metrology’ devices, which, according to experts here, will be available in around five years for, say, measuring gravitational waves.

Quantum sensor devices will also be used in fields like healthcare, oil and gas prospecting and environment. (IANS)

(Biswajit Choudhury is in Moscow at the invitation of the Russian Quantum Centre. He can be reached at biswajit.c@ians.in)

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