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The project shaping an ultra-secure Maltese quantum communication infrastructure

PRISM, an acronym that stands for “Physical Security for Public Infrastructure in Malta,” is a project aiming to set up an ultra-secure quantum communications network in Malta. This network will use quantum mechanics to provide an improved level of security, much greater than that of current communication networks.

The PRISM project involves seven Maltese organisations. The overall project coordination is in the hands of RSM Malta, whereas the technical efforts are led by Merqury Cybersecurity Limited, together with Melita, Umnai, and the University of Malta. The public sector is involved through Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Directorate within the Ministry for Home Affairs, Security, Reforms, and Equality. As eventual users of the network, these entities will provide use cases for such an ultra-secure network.

Why do we need PRISM and more enhanced security?

As computational science and technology advance, particularly with the emergence of high-performance computing and quantum technologies, the need for cybersecurity to keep pace with the progress of computers is increasingly crucial. As things stand, the systems currently used to secure data being transferred are becoming less effective and more vulnerable to data breaches. What is needed is communication security that is as advanced as the potential computing capabilities that quantum computers are anticipated to have.

The current basis of online security, asymmetric cryptography, is not secure against the capabilities that quantum computers will have.

To communicate securely over the present-day Internet, a combination of symmetric and asymmetric cryptography is usually used. Symmetric cryptography is still considered secure against quantum computers. However, the asymmetric cryptography (or public key cryptography) which ultimately underlies secure exchange of information is not. Asymmetric cryptography is based on computationally hard problems, such as prime-number factorisation, which quantum computers can solve efficiently, making these cryptographic algorithms vulnerable to quantum computer attacks. That is where Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), the technology used in PRISM, comes in. QKD allows for the distribution of symmetric keys in a truly secure manner by exploiting the principles of quantum mechanics. Communications secured by QKD cannot be intercepted. A shift to QKD would protect our infrastructure and data against attacks.

­­­­­Europe’s way forward

Given the importance of having a truly secure communications system, the European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (EuroQCI) declaration was signed in 2019 by the European Commission and several EU Member States. Currently the European Commission is collaborating with all 27 member states to develop a Europe-wide Quantum Communication Infrastructure (QCI), starting with 26 national QCI projects that together will start developing the building blocks for the EuroQCI. PRISM will be leading the development of this infrastructure in the Maltese islands.

To reach the primary aim of the project to build a network spanning the entire country, the project has four objectives.

Completing the “last mile” integration

This includes putting together the software stack and applications that will run and control the network as well as integrating the hardware into a standards-compliant quantum appliance.

Deploying the quantum network in Malta

The infrastructure will include several physical nodes across Malta and Gozo as well as a connection to Sicily. The latter will facilitate the integration of the Maltese network with that in the rest of the European countries. PRISM will serve as a blueprint for European efforts that aim to deploy quantum-secured networks in other countries.

Creating a quantum technology ecosystem

The project will undertake a thorough study to understand how to create a quantum technology ecosystem in Malta as well as how to build sustainable activity centred around the quantum communication technologies deployed in this project.

Spread the word about quantum technologies

In addition to the technical development and deployment, PRISM aims to spread the word about existing quantum technologies to the Maltese public and further report its results to scientific and technical communities. This audience shall range from students to technical professionals and government officials, thus showcasing the technology’s importance and effects across all sectors. PRISM also intends to share technical results and collaborate with other Digital Europe Programme and National QCI projects.

We already started making waves!

In May, PRISM ran a demonstration of a quantum-encrypted video call between the Rector of the University of Malta, Prof. Alfred J Vella, and the CTO of Melita, Mr Simon Montanaro. Quantum nodes were deployed at the University of Malta and the data centre of Melita using the technology developed by Merqury Cybersecurity Limited. More information about this can be found here and in the video here.

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