China will soon have the world’s most secure major computer network, making communications between Beijing and Shanghai impenetrable to hackers and giving it a decisive edge in its quiet cyberwar with the United States.In two years’ time, a fibre-optic cable between the two cities will transmit quantum encryption keys that can completely secure government, financial and military information from eavesdroppers.
“We learnt after the Edward Snowden affair that we are always being hacked,” said Prof Pan Jianwei, a quantum physicist at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei, who is leading the project.”Since most of the products we buy come from foreign companies, we wanted to accelerate our own programme,” he added. “This is very urgent because classical encryption was not invented in China, so we want to develop our own technology.”
The £60 million cable, which is being funded by the central government and has been supported by the Central Military Commission, will initially mostly be used for money transfers by ICBC, the world’s largest bank.
A huge video screen shows 56 terminals across the city that are already using quantum encryption. Currently, anyone wanting to send a secret message over the internet encrypts their communications so that only someone with the right code at the other end can unlock it.
But the US National Security Agency reportedly has computers powerful enough to crack encryption codes and is developing a quantum computer that will be able to run calculations so quickly that it can easily defeat encryption.That means that, if it is able to tap fibre-optic cables and copy data travelling down the line, its hackers should be able to unlock the information.
We heard Nasa is building a quantum line between Los Angeles and San Francisco,” said Prof Pan. “And IBM and Google are both investing heavily.”
However, Prof Pan and Prof Laflamme said the development of the quantum system still required a great deal of work. Photons can only travel for a short distance, which means the new Beijing to Shanghai line will include 20 nodes, each of which is vulnerable to hackers.