In part one of this guide, we examined what the quantum internet is and some of the crucial quantum properties that comprise its pillars. Building on the definition of quantum internet and its capabilities, this section will examine the benefits it will bring to network security, along with the stages and milestones necessary to make it a reality. As experts work to create this future Internet within the next decade, there are plenty of next steps and considerations for federal agencies to make in preparation.
Cryptography and Security for Future Networks
Ahead of the fulfillment of the quantum internet, quantum mechanics are already helping make information, data, and communication more secure. In 2020, one of the first private sector Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network prototypes were created and successfully tested. QKD may be one of the initial applications available on the quantum internet distributing encryption keys to secure applications on the Internet. Encoding random information on photons of light and transmitting that information to another endpoint allows the derivation of the same encryption key at two different locations. The properties of quantum mechanics and QKD protocols provide unconditional security against eavesdroppers. Encryption keys derived on the quantum internet could then be used to secure confidential applications on the Internet.
The development of these capabilities is well underway, but it will take some time for them to become ubiquitous. Quantum computers will likely be similar to the first classic computers, which were large mainframes that filled entire rooms and took decades to become widely available. In the meantime, the quantum internet will provide a way for organizations to securely take advantage of quantum computing. It will be possible to encrypt a data set and send it over the quantum internet to a quantum computer. A quantum computer could also receive the instructions for program execution, and after completing the instructions, then send the results back to the organization for decryption. During transit or computations, the actual data is never revealed since it is encrypted.
The Department of Energy’s Roadmap to the Quantum Internet
The road to the quantum internet is being paved in several stages, which have been mapped out by the DoE and scientific researchers. One of these roadmaps, proposed by Professor Stephanie Wehner in 2018, is based on technology functions that become more advanced as the stages progress. Of the six milestones laid out by Wehner, the first two, trusted repeater and prepare & measure, have already been realized, and the next two, addressing the entanglement generation and quantum memory, are in progress with some success demonstrated already. Wehner’s plan is like the DOE’s blueprint, except for the final stage.
The DoE’s blueprint, From a Long Distance Entanglement to Building a Nationwide Quantum Internet, begins and ends with synergy. It is the culmination of a February 2020 workshop that involved representatives from DoE national laboratories, academia, industry, U.S. government and others interested in quantum computing. This collaborative effort lays out five milestones that the U.S. will need to reach the quantum internet and explains the research opportunities that need to be further explored to advance the technology needed. The last milestone of the DoE’s plan again notes that a large-scale collaborative effort between academia, government, and industry is needed to build and grow the quantum internet.
Recognizing the impact, the quantum internet can have on addressing climate change and protecting the power grid, the DoE has allocated millions of dollars in the last few years to research and development. Protecting the power grid has been one of the DoE’s main motivators in leading government agencies in developing a plan and working toward the creation of the quantum internet. While the plan has been mapped out for the quantum internet, it will take the united efforts of many to make it a reality.
Preparing for the Future of the Internet
Although the drive for the quantum internet is a new endeavor, those spearheading the movement are quickly turning theory into reality to meet the mission. While the DoE is at the forefront of government investment in quantum internet development, other agencies are vital to the on-going success. By committing funding and resources to developing quantum safe networks and identifying future use cases that will help solve our most pressing challenges.