Not even the president’s cell phone is bug-proof – but that is about to change, with the help of quantum-secure connections. The first video conference encrypted in this way took place in Bonn today.
The large transport boxes, many lenses and lasers make it clear that this ministry is about research. Minister Anja Karliczek presses a red button. “Ah, that looks good,” commented the CDU politician. “Good morning! I hope you can hear me too? I don’t even know: Do I have to speak into the microphone so that you can hear me?” – “We hear you loud and clear and see you too – perfect!” Is the somewhat tinny answer.
The goal is “the most trustworthy data room in the world”
What happens when the Minister presses a button is unspectacular for the audience: You see a completely normal video conference. On the other side of the line, 300 meters as the crow flies from the Bonn ministry, the Vice President of the Federal Office for Information Security, a representative of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the head of technology of the German Industry Association for Quantum Security, sit. The three men reverberate, but Karliczek is visibly enthusiastic – although the structure next to her looks very complicated: “I don’t really understand how it all works,” she admits.
The first connection secured by so-called quantum encryption has a high priority for the Research Minister. On the one hand, because cyberattacks are just as dangerous for the authorities in Germany as they are for industry; on the other hand, because the communication of the democratic institutions must not be influenced from outside. “I want us to have the opportunity to organize Germany and Europe as the most trustworthy data room in the world,” says Karliczek, formulating the political goal behind it.
Ready in five years at the earliest
Two years ago she launched the QuNET initiative, an association of the most important research institutions such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Mechanics, the Max Planck Society, the German Aerospace Center and specialized industrial companies. The quantum-secured video conference today is the first result of this collaboration. “And quantum keys that cannot be intercepted unnoticed are exchanged via these quantum channels,” explains Karliczek. “With the help of these secret keys, we will be testing the first quantum-secured video conference between two federal authorities.” That is “really a revolution in communication”.There is nothing new about videoconferencing, but the encryption with which it is transmitted.
Today, private and government video conferences are encrypted using mathematical methods. However, they will soon be cracked by large computers. In the newly developed process, so-called quantum keys are used, which are generated with laser beams and transmitted via visual paths or fibre optics. Anyone who eavesdropping destroys the key – that is a law of quantum physics. Professor Martin Schell from the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute says: “The technology for quantum key exchange that you just saw in the video still takes up entire laboratories. In the future, however, its size will have to fit into one or two shoeboxes. ” It will be a while before Bonn and Berlin ministries can communicate with the new encryption; a “certain maturity” is expected in five years.