New ITU standard for networks to support quantum-safe encryption and authentication

A new ITU standard describes the networking concepts to underpin Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), a means of enabling secure encryption and authentication in the presence of the unbounded computational power to be introduced by quantum information technologies.

The standard – ITU Y.3800 “Overview on networks supporting quantum key distribution” – describes the basic conceptual structures of QKD networks as the first of a series of emerging ITU standards on network and security aspects of quantum information technologies.

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ITU is accelerating its preparations for the arrival of quantum information technologies – technologies based on the properties of quantum physics – recognizing that these technologies will be capable of solving problems far beyond the reach of classical information technologies.

This problem-solving capability presents significant threats to security.

Quantum algorithms such as Shor’s algorithm and Grover’s algorithm attack the foundations of today’s cryptography. ITU standardization work is anticipating the arrival of a universal quantum computer powerful enough to run such algorithms.

QKD enables the exchange of secret symmetric keys used for encryption and authentication. These keys are secure, even against eavesdropping attempts powered by quantum computing.

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ITU standards for QKD networks – networks of QKD devices and an overlay network – will enable the integration of QKD technology into large-scale ICT networks. ITU standards will also provide for the security of these QKD networks.

“To date, QKD systems have shared keys between two parties connected by a point-to-point QKD link,” says Hyung-Soo Kim of KT, the lead editor of ITU Y.3800. “ITU Y.3800 extends these point-to-point links to a multi-point QKD network with a layered structure and standardized interfaces, supporting cost-effective QKD deployment, operation and maintenance.”

Join ITU’s growing ecosystem of quantum specialists

ITU has welcomed a range of new members with expertise in quantum cryptography and quantum communications.

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Their first priority is the development of ITU standards codifying a common set of best practices for QKD network implementations. These best practices will be followed by ITU standards providing for the interoperability of the QKD equipment produced by different vendors.

Network aspects of quantum information technologies are under study in ITU-T Study Group 13 (Future networks). The security dimensions of these technologies are under study in ITU-T Study Group 17 (Security).

ITU has also established an open-to-all Focus Group on ‘Quantum Information Technology for Networks’ to study the evolution of these technologies in view of their foreseen applications in ICT networks.

It will lead exploratory ‘pre-standardization’ studies to identify emerging standardization demands and anticipate demands to arise in future. These studies are expected to make a key contribution to the coordination of ongoing and future standardization projects across a range of standards bodies.

The group will hold its first meeting in Jinan, China, 9-10 December 2019, hosted by the Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology.