Traffic Data Cyber-Security Works… For Now

Russian company Quanttelecom is developing a quantum communication technology for protection of transport-related data against man-in-the-middle attacks.

So far, the developer has made three real-world implementations in the national road transport system, including 500, 125 and 50 miles fiber-optic lines. As quantum technologies advance at pace, more companies are thinking how to apply them to the challenges facing road transport. In 2018 , we published a piece on the quantum computing partnership between VW and D-Wave aimed at solving complex tasks of traffic optimization.

Using quantum physics for data transit is a different story. While quantum computers are super-fast, state-of-the-art quantum communication lines are, on the contrary, extremely slow (or, more precisely, narrowband). Yet their ultimate advantage is theoretically absolute protection against eavesdropping.

Given that, the engineers are trying to build a combined model with quantum and conventional communication technologies. After exchanging a cryptographic key is done through a procedure called quantum key distribution (QKD), the sender and the recipient get back to the conventional channel such as wi-fi, mobile connection or fiber optic to transit the encrypted data.

This is what Quanttelecom is trying to adapt to transport-specific conditions. “By exploring into the (available) technologies and standards used for protecting data in exchange of information between automobiles and transport environment we are trying to formulate a proper concept of embedding quantum communications to secure the data,” said Igor Nalivayko, commercial director at Quanttelecom, in a phone interview.

Questionable quantumization

“With QKD, data security level rises exponentially making even quantum computers useless for malicious actions,” said Nalivayko, “because a larger overall amount of data is encrypted, keys are often changed and each key protects significantly less amount of data.”

Nonetheless, today, there are not many commercial implementations globally, coming mostly from the financial and governmental sectors. The very idea of using QKD for transportation environment is arguable because applying cryptography to larger volumes of data would require much additional computing resources, said a transportation-and-IoT security specialist who asked to keep his identity private: “It’s a value-per-investment problem. Any of the global automakers would start the wrangling by asking: How much?”

The specialists interviewed say that quantumization of wired communications – say, in data transit between a smart city system’s entities – is the easiest example with infrastructure remaining basically the same. There’s even some compensation thanks to excluding a cost of today’s manual key exchange, said Nalivayko: “These days, a sender and recipient use hardware modules for key management and annually visit a key certificate authority. With our technology, they can exchange keys through an open-air or fiber channel.”

Beware the vulnerability of today’s networks coming from the manual key exchange, said Sergey Kulik, scientific leader of Quantum Technology Center at Lomonosov Moscow State University: “QKD allows for automatic key exchange, excluding the human staff – the top cause of data breaches.”

In wireless applications, QKD is a promising substitute to the current cryptographic technology called Diffie-Hellman key exchange that will become insecure in the foreseeable future – ironically, dethroned by the quantum computers. It must be said also that the QKD opponents approached by the author didn’t come up with alternatives capable to address that issue.

Laser tech

On the wireless side, protecting V2I connections with QKD is an engineering puzzle. To establish a quantum channel, the sender and recipient’s apparatuses must be directed toward each other and have no obstructions in between for light to propagate. Technically, it requires the vehicle to stand still in a pre-defined location in the process.

“That is why the general idea is to establish the connection in certain points such as gasoline stations,” said Yaroslav Domaratsky, CTO at Sreda. “A number of research projects are led globally pursuing different technical concepts while Quanttelecom is trying a dedicated laser.” “The (V2I) project is in early stages of development yet,” said Nalivayko. “We’re working on a sample QKD prototype for vehicles.”

Quantum communications is an area undervalued by investors and key players unlike overheated emerging technologies such as autonomous transport or 5G networks. The burden of development is currently distributed mostly between academic institutions and tech companies specialized in the quantum theme, said Kulik. Russian automakers could contribute but aren’t ready to get involved because their engineering and executive staff hasn’t yet gained competencies necessary to evaluate capability and challenges, he added.

He also said: “It’s safe to say that we have yet another five years to perfect the QKD model in transportation before quantum computers will start posing a real threat to the today’s cryptographic technologies.”

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