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A quantum of security

In the world of quantum technology former security concepts are no use. That’s why Germany is preparing for the future in this area. 

A quantum computer
A quantum computer © picture alliance / Rupert Oberhäuser

Quantum technology is the future of computing. But how is it different from the earlier digital technology? Traditional technology is based on transistors and the classical computing elements 0 and 1. This information is called a bit (binary digit). Quantum computers operate with qubits. Qubits can also be 0 or 1, or in what’s called a superimposition, any combination of 0 and 1. Performing a calculation on two classical bits (i.e. 00, 01, 10 and 11) requires four calculations. But a quantum computer can perform all four states simultaneously. Consequently, the same quantity of information requires far less qubits than bits. In practice this means that, for instance, a very fast computer will take a little more than 14 months to work its way through all the combinations for a very good password (with 95 possible characters). But, depending on its capacity, a quantum computer would only need a fraction of a second to perform the same task.  

What effects will quantum computing have on digital security? 

Because of their incredible computing capacity, the present-day password security architecture is no longer applicable to quantum computers. Within the blink of an eye, these computers can recognize every conceivable password based on the binary system. That’s why ministries, scientists and enterprises in Germany are working on the design of quantum security concepts. Here are two examples from the fields of business and science.

The ZQE at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) 

On 24 January 2023 the topping out ceremony took place in Garching near Munich at the construction site of the new interdisciplinary Center for Quantum Engineering (ZQE) at the TUM. Topping out means that the shell of the building, including the roof, has been completed. Starting in 2024, more than 100 scientists will be working here in various areas of quantum technology research. According to managing director Christian Pfleiderer, physicist and professor for the Topology of Correlated Systems, one of the main tasks of the ZQE is to “establish tap-proof communications procedures while implementing the existing telecommunications infrastructure”.  

Trumpf machine tool manufacturer and its start-up 

In the age of quantum technology, and in view of the incredible computing speeds, encrypting also involves a race between decryption and encryption. That’s why the internationally active, Swabian machine tool manufacturer Trumpf recently invested in the start-up Quside, whose high-performance random number generator located in a photonic chip can encrypt messages in such a way that even extremely powerful quantum computers cannot decrypt them. But Trumpf is also working with its own start-up Qant to develop quantum computers. Qant is aiming to develop a quantum computer with a photonic approach, in other words it operates with light. If all works out well, the advantage will be that this computer would no longer need any of the usual sophisticated cooling systems. Last year the Federal Ministry of Research contributed 42 million euros to a consortium surrounding Qant towards the development of quantum computers “made in Germany”. 


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