China’s ‘tamper-proof’ quantum satellite system promises to defend world’s largest power grid from cyberattacks

China has developed what it calls a quantum satellite system in an effort to combat any adversary’s intrusion into its power infrastructure. The country has the largest national electricity grid in the world.

As critical infrastructures become increasingly integrated with data and network systems, the risk that these systems will be compromised in the event of a confrontation remains greater.

China appears to have measured the threat and has now designed a network against it, being a power-dependent developing economy. He is said to have developed the world’s first quantum satellite, integrating its critical ground infrastructure with quantum space technology.

“China has built a quantum communications network in space to secure its power grid against cyber attacks,” scientists involved in the project said, as reported by SCMP.

The Chinese quantum satellite (via Twitter)

Part of the grid connects Fujian’s power system to a national emergency command center in the Chinese capital, Beijing. Fujian is a southeastern province and is located near Taiwan. Beijing and Fujian are approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) apart.

According to researchers at the State Grid Information and Communication Branch, which is responsible for creating the information infrastructure of the national electricity grid, building an optical cable of this length for quantum communication would have been very expensive.

In order to build a more risk-resistant and profitable system, the Chinese turned to Mozi, the world’s first quantum satellite to relay the quantum key for encryption of data which, according to the laws of physics, could not be hacked.

This is indicative of China’s perception of the threat against the backdrop of growing belligerence with the island state of Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province and aims to eventually reunite with its mainland.

Western support for Taiwan could be a precursor to China’s integration of the mesh of the southeastern province into that of its Central Response Command. This move could also be interpreted as an attempt to send a message to its Western rivals that it is prepared for all eventualities with modern high-tech solutions.

The ultra-secure communications channel was used in an exercise in May this year to allow central government officials to take control of the operating power grid in the coastal province without their directives being exposed to eavesdropping or eavesdropping. manipulation by a third party. This is where the central response system led by a quantum satellite comes into play.

China’s “quantum” leap

Reports from China developing the very first quantum satellite ground stations emerged in January 2020. The satellite, Mozi, however, was unveiled in 2016 itself.

The Hong Kong-based publication, South China Morning Post, reported in January last year that “Chinese scientists have invented a quantum satellite ground station that fits in a family car and can broadcast ultra-secure messages anywhere in the world. the world.

The transportable device, designed by the China University of Science and Technology, weighed about 80 kilograms. It was reported to have the ability to connect to the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ quantum satellite, Mozi, and receive encryption keys in the form of entangled light particles with the addition of a telescope from 28 cm (11 inches).

This report attempted to explain how the integrated network of quantum satellites would operate on the ground. Although the satellite system and ground infrastructure were ready last year, its application to power grid security was not immediately revealed.

Mozi developed by China in 2016 for scientific studies quickly began to find an increasing variety of commercial and military applications and merged with the dual-tech ecosystem.

National security concerns have boosted the application of quantum communication technology in the energy sector, senior scientist Zhao Ziyan and colleagues said in a report published in the industry journal last month, Electrical energy information and communication technology.

Chinese scientists built the world’s first integrated quantum communication network, which combined more than 700 optical fibers on the ground. It has two ground-to-satellite links to ensure the distribution of quantum keys to users across the country over a distance of 4,600 kilometers, the science publication Science Tech Daily said earlier this year.

The team from the China University of Science and Technology in Hefei, led by Jianwei Pan, Yuao Chen and Chengzhi Peng, published an article in the journal ‘Nature’ detailing their progress towards the comprehensive and practical deployment of such a network for future communications.

Quantum communication, unlike traditional encryption, is deemed non-hackable and therefore is the future of secure information transport for banks, power grids, and other industries.

At the heart of quantum communication is Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), as it uses the quantum states of particles – such as photons – to create a chain of zeros and ones, with all eavesdropping between sender and receiver. modifying that string or key and being detected instantly.

China has the world’s largest national electricity grid, transmitting 7,500 terawatt-hours of electricity each year, more than the combined grids of the United States, India, Russia and Japan.

System operators have deployed artificial intelligence, 5G, and other advanced means to maintain the efficiency and stability of the rapidly expanding network, but the power grid has become more vulnerable to attack due to its increased dependence with regard to machines and data.

China has adopted new measures to protect its power infrastructure against possible cyber attacks.

According to Zhao’s team, a hacker infiltrating the electrical communications network and decoding the directives could inflict large-scale power outages or other damage. It is a breakdown that the Chinese can hardly afford.

In addition, in recent years, cyber attacks have blocked nuclear power plants in some countries, banking systems in some, and power grids in some others. Ironically, India’s financial capital Mumbai suffered a massive power outage last year, blamed on Chinese hackers.

Nevertheless, with the scope and size of a gigantic country like China, the physical integration of the network with all of its components in the field would be a very labor-intensive and extremely expensive undertaking with the possibility of a cyberattack not completely absent. Therefore, a quantum satellite communication system has boosted China’s critical infrastructure security efforts.

How is the United States doing in the quantum race?

Following the demonstration of China’s Micius (Mozi) satellite in 2017, US politicians responded by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in quantum information science through the National Quantum Initiative, according to the website Scientific American.

The two countries appear to contribute more than $ 100 million each year to research. China has more total patents in quantum technology, but the United States is not far behind. China, of course, has a more advanced quantum network.

Quantum research in China is almost entirely state funded, with only a few universities and companies participating. It has been pursued very seriously in order to be part of its overall security architecture.

Although there has been a fierce race between China and its main adversary the United States in the field of quantum technology, the former has set a precedent that could be adopted by the most technologically advanced countries in the world.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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