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BT to Build First Quantum-Secure Metro Fibre Network in London

Tuesday, October 5th, 2021 (9:25 am) - Score 3,264
hand with fiber network cables connected to servers in a datacenter

UK ISP BT and partner Toshiba have today announced that they intend to build the “world’s first” quantum-secured metro fibre optic network between commercial sites in London, which will adopt ultra-secure communications via the use of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) and Post-Quantum Cryptography (PQC) encryption.

Last year the two companies succeeded in establishing the UK’s first “industrial deployment” of a quantum-secure network using Openreach’s “standard” fibre optic infrastructure (here), and since then they’ve also tested it with hollow core fibre cables (here).

The idea of all this is that, should such a communication be intercepted along the way, the sender will be able to tell that the link has been tampered with, and the stolen photons cannot then be used as part of the key, thus rendering the data stream itself incomprehensible to a hacker. Admittedly, this doesn’t stop hackers breaching the connection in other ways, such as by infiltrating the systems on either side of the link.

The key rate of the QKD system, mentioned above, ran at 1.1Mbps (each encryption key has a length of 256 bits), while the encrypted data link itself was running at 10Gbps, although it could go up to several hundred gigabits per second and operate at distances of up to 600km (here).

Clearly BT and Toshiba are happy with the progress they’ve made because they’re now proceeding to conduct the “world’s first commercial trial” of a quantum network infrastructure, which will involve connecting their sites in London’s Docklands area, as well as the City and the M4 Corridor (Slough area).

The QKD links will be provided using a quantum network that includes both core and access components, and will be integrated into BT’s existing network management operations. Toshiba will provide quantum key distribution hardware and key management software.

BT will then provide a range of quantum-secured services over this network, including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered via Openreach’s Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect (OSA FC) solution for private fibre networks. The two companies’ initial focus will be to provide trials for enterprise customers who are carrying sensitive traffic (such as database backups) between sites, and to explore potential future offerings such as encrypted links and “quantum keys-as-a-service“.

Howard Watson, CTO of BT, said:

“BT and Toshiba have established a global lead in the development of quantum-secure networks. We’re excited to be taking this collaboration to the next level by building the world’s first commercially operational quantum-secured metro network in London. Secure, robust and trusted data transfer is increasingly crucial to our customers across the globe, so we’re proud of the role our Quantum R&D programme is playing in making the world’s networks safer as we enter the dawn of a new age of quantum computing.”

Deploying a full quantum-secured metro network environment with multiple endpoints requires new approaches to integration and management. Building on the BT and Toshiba point-to-point solution for the Bristol-based NCC (National Composites Centre) and Centre for Modelling and Simulation (CFMS), this new network will extend the solution to serve multiple customers across a wide metropolitan area.

London is considered to be an ideal environment to deploy and trial this technology, thanks to the density of customers whose data is extremely sensitive and requires utmost security, such as financial and legal institutions. BT points to estimates that suggest quantum computer enabled security attacks are possible within 5 years, and likely to occur within 10 years, which they believe can be tackled by adopting quantum encryption.

BT believes that their commercial deployment in London will “likely be the first step” in a national quantum-secured network infrastructure for the UK. The operator knows that such a service could also become a key differentiator between itself and the more traditional solutions from rival operators. Equally, we suspect that BT’s network might become a tempting target for hackers to test new tools against.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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17 Responses
  1. Buggerlugz says:

    I can’t imagine the sheer volume of corrupt business moguls, politicians, world leaders and despots around the world queuing up to use this technology to hide all their assets within the UK.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      This is more about securing the link, rather than the storage of data.

    2. QKD says:

      I can imagine the lack of clue that leads to a comment like this.

  2. Pezza says:

    Ah so all those criminals and Politicians can move over to this as opposed to using their WhatsApp groups. Hopefully it won’t go down for nearly a day due to ‘configuration change errors’ unlike WhatsApp..

    It sounds good, but as WhatsApp has shown, having ultra secure end to end encryption that the likes of MI6 can’t access leads to some nasty activities being hidden.

    1. El Bootlicker says:

      lol stop it. b-but if we don’t backdoor all encryption someone might hurt the kiddies. what an utter load of rubbish. The government will NEVER be able to get the likes of Apple to backdoor their encryption so that the spooks can read our emails. The UK and it’s government show nothing but contempt for proper internet security.

      People used to speak Cockney to confuse the cops. Maybe we should have banned cockney speech too? Maybe ban all forms of writing since one day you might create a one time pad.

    2. NE555 says:

      “The government will NEVER be able to get the likes of Apple to backdoor their encryption so that the spooks can read our emails.”

      Really?!

      Apple recently announced that they will start to perform on-device scanning, looking through your stored data for certain types of illegal material, and to report it to the police if found.

      They have withdrawn this for the time being, after a huge backlash from privacy advocates. But the box is now open.

      The question now is more along the lines of: next time, when they do actually roll it out, will they tell anyone?

    3. Gary says:

      You mean like the post office not opening mail searching for illegal stuff let lots of illegal things happen. You either support privacy or don’t.

    4. Pezza says:

      @El Bootliker just because your naive enough to believe pedophiles don’t use WhatsApp doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen every day, along with all other criminals. But you carry on looking the fool in your naivety.

      @Gary Last time I checked the Postal Service doesn’t refuse the Police or MI5 or 6 from opening the Mail, with WhatsApp if you use an iPhone it’s locked and Apple won’t help you unlock it, and then WhatsApp won’t give you the messages, so not really comparable as ones accessible, the other isn’t and sits behind a wall of encryption under ‘privacy’ laws and protection…

    5. El Bootlicker says:

      what did they use before whatsapp. A car can be used to run someone over, quick, let’s ban cars. Either we have a right to privacy, or we don’t. Not privacy, but the government can nominate who it likes to invade it as they please.

    6. Pezza says:

      Your missing the point, you have a right to privacy yes y til your breaking the law, then you should rightfully lose those rights for criminal investigations.
      But that doesn’t happen because law enforcement cannot crack your WhatsApp account, not access your iPhone if they don’t have the passwords. And neither company especially Apple is obliged to help. So the criminal could walk free if the evidence required for conviction is in those devices and services.

    7. El Bootlicker says:

      and i think you are missing the point. end to end encryption means that not even Apple, facebook/whatsapp has the means to decrypt a message sent on their platform. Not without doing a man-in-the-middle attack on everyone, or backdooring the encryption so that some Cambridge types can snoop on you. The fact is that if you change the e2e model, you open the backdoor to everyone. Let alone the argument of what is considered legal snooping? maybe you claimed benefits but sent a message about a job? ok to spy then? what if you dislike the present government and look at anti-government / protest group whatsapp groups? ok to spy then? where do you draw the line?

      ah but the kiddies. must protect the kiddies, that’s the favourite line isn’t it. I mean if all you have to go on is breaking into someone’s phone/laptop/whatever then you’ve got a pretty flimsy case to begin with. If the UK gov insists on breaking the encryption that has underpinned the entire internet since it became a grown-up and had online transactions, then god help us all.

      If you think the entire thing isn’t subterfuge to enable complete global surveillance on anyone for any reason, then i’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    8. Pezza says:

      So you just basically confirmed everything I said, then continued down the righteous privacy bashing wagon, oh dear. You know it would be perfectly acceptable for Apple or WhatsApp to abide by court orders that request they unlock phones, they DO supply some information when requested, that puts a big hole in your privacy argument, but they should also be forced to unlock devices and services when requested, it’s something they CAN do, don’t buy the bullshit they can’t, they just won’t do it. And I noted how light hearted about crimes against children you are, nice.

  3. Gary says:

    So those defending/championing this kind of snooping are happy with the Mail services opening all their post ‘Just in case they find something illegal’ ?

    I’m not some civil rights activist but routinely, without cause searching for evidence to then allow a charge to be made is closer to the gestapo and KGB than I’d support

    1. GNewton says:

      “this kind of snooping are happy with the Mail services opening all their post”

      This has been a common practice with email services from Microsoft (e.g. for hotmail or live) for years. Quite frequently emails sent to a hotmail recipient are blacklisted without the sender’s or recipient’s knowledge or consent. Snooping the email contents is of course also a violation of the GDPR!

  4. Ex Telecom Engineer says:

    I’ve read through some of the comments on here, and anyone who thinks that the security services can’t read their emails are kidding themselves, in my opinion. What’s the point of the supercomputers at institutions like the NSA and GCHQ, if they can’t continually crunch through masses of encrypted data, using AI to look for key words, phrases and references. It’s my guess that they can break most encryption, but it probably suits the phone manufacturers and security services to maintain the myth that encryption like RSA doesn’t have a backdoor method for analysing the data.The common sense view, would suggest that uncrackable commercial encryption algorithms wouldn’t be allowed by the powers that be; No doubt many would disagree with that view, but it seems likely to me.

    1. Ex Telecom Engineer says:

      Just to add to my post; I realise that the article wasn’t about reading encrypted emails, but about securing end to end fibre links to guard against the sniffing off of data using optical splitters. Both interesting subjects though.

    2. QKD says:

      For the curious the security services cannot crack encrypted emails routinely. The same academics that invented those key exchange algorithms are content that they are robust.

      Quantum computing will carve up RSA once it’s advanced enough but right now 2048 bit RSA and ECDHE are both solid, AES 256 and above alongside a few other symmetric ciphers are fine.

      All the computing power in the world couldn’t break a 2048 bit RSA key in a lifetime, which is why RIPA allows law enforcement to compel people to give up passwords.

      Most of the time metadata, who is talking to whom and when, is more than enough for security services. They follow up with targeted investigation based on that. No cryptography will keep data private when you’re in the back of a van with a gun to your head and someone demanding your key.

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