NATO Works on Quantum Cryptography with Malta

Quantum technology will soon change our security landscape. While this technology could represent a ground-breaking solution to complex problems in a number of fields, its potential can also be disruptive.

NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme is supporting two projects to secure our digital communications for the post-quantum era.  Senior NATO SPS & Partnership Cooperation Advisor Dr Deniz Beten and Prof. Alfred Vella, Rector of the University of Malta, April 2019.

Quantum technologies use the properties of quantum effects – the interactions of molecules, atoms, or photons – to create practical applications in many different fields. While these applications at present are limited to experimental set-ups in some specialised fields (metrology, time-frequency distribution, security, space, automation, etc.), in the future they may expand to cover a wide range of areas, such as computer science, satellite communications, automotive, medicine, etc.

Quantum computers, for instance, can carry much more data than traditional computer systems. This huge computational power theoretically makes it possible for quantum computers to break the traditional cryptographic systems on which our current communications systems, such as online bank transactions or telecommunications, are based.

To overcome this issue, the international community, and in particular, NATO is currently looking for post-quantum solutions, i.e. solutions designed to be secure against an attack by a quantum computer.

“In the areas of research and technological development of the future, projects in the field of cybersecurity and secured communications offer a great opportunity to foster collaboration among NATO and partner countries,” stated Dr Deniz Beten, Senior NATO SPS and Partnership Cooperation Advisor. “This is exactly what our two multi-year projects launched in 2018 with Malta are about,” she added.

Building quantum communications between Malta and NATO Allies

The first NATO SPS project with NATO partner country Malta aims to establish and implement post-quantum cryptographic solutions and protocols. This project will be able to guarantee a secure solution for cryptographic computerised communications used to protect sensitive information. Experts from the University of Malta, the Slovak University of Technology, the Florida Atlantic University and King Juan Carlos University of Spain are leading this project.

The second project aims to establish a communication channel between Italy and Malta over underwater submarine optical fibres. The link will be developed using existing telecommunications optical fibres with the addition of two portable quantum stations to be installed, one in Italy and one in Malta. In the long run, this project will help protect Maltese critical infrastructures and will pave the way for quantum communications to be used between Malta and Italy.

“In the future, quantum technology will be necessary to protect our critical infrastructures and services,” said Professor André Xuereb, project director from the University of Malta. “These SPS projects anticipate this trend and help Malta to prepare for future secure technology.”

Early April 2019, NATO experts met with Alfred Vella, Rector of the University of Malta, Christianne Caruana of the Maltese Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion and other Maltese professors and scientists to discuss potential avenues for strengthening scientific cooperation between NATO and Malta. “We are proud that the University of Malta’s researchers have the opportunity to be involved in two innovative projects in quantum technology within NATO SPS. These projects could reshape the security architectures of the future,” stated Mr Vella.

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