How A Photon Could Protect America From The World's Most Sophisticated Bad Guys

Atomic Overlook

Photo: Clay Lipsky/

Earlier today we posted how the Chinese military’s exploit of America’s grid software could conceivably provide them with a switch to turn out our lights, for months.The resulting catastrophe can be averted, however, by the implementation of technology that recently  which uses single photons to secure networks and grids: Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).

The Los Alamos National Laboratory quietly reported successfully completing “the first-ever demonstration of securing control data for electric grids using quantum cryptography.”

Barbara Vergetis Lundin of Fierce Smart Grid reports:

Quantum cryptography utilizes single photons to produce secure random numbers between users. These random numbers are then used to authenticate and encrypt the grid control data and commands. Because the random numbers are produced securely, they act as cryptographic key material for data authentication and encryption algorithms.

The same place which saw the birth of the Atomic Bomb, potentially man’s self wrought apocalypse, is also home to the prototype researchers built for Quantum Crytography.

Their paper is quite complex (read at your own risk) — involving quantum mechanics — but the gist of it is that not only can systems equipped with QKD easily detect eavesdroppers, they can also randomly generate cryptography keys at both locations, all at unprecedented speeds.

“The simulator provides a mechanism for proving technology in real-world scenarios,” said Tim Yardley, assistant director of test bed services. “We’re not just using perfect or simulated data, so the results demonstrate true feasibility.”

The technology can be implemented into existing infrastructure, but researchers are worried that politics and brinksmanship will delay further research, testing, and installation.

“It’s actually pretty discouraging how little has changed, based on this lack of cohesiveness between the IT security teams and the operational staff responsible for maintaining uptime of industrial systems,” said Avivah Litan, a senior security analyst with Gartner told CSO Online. “There’s still a culture of organizational bureaucracies and territorialism, and little urgency to get things done.”

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