Quantum cryptography demonstrated for smart grid security


Los Alamos, NM, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — February 18, 2013 – A Los Alamos National Laboratory quantum cryptography (QC) team recently successfully completed a demonstration of securing control data for electric grids using quantum cryptography.

The demonstration, said to be a first ever, was performed in the electric grid test bed that is part of the Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid (TCIPG) project at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) that was set up under the Department of Energy’s Cyber Security for Energy Delivery Systems program in the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

Novel methods for controlling the electric grid are needed to accommodate new energy sources such as renewables whose availability can fluctuate on short time scales. This requires transmission of data to and from control centers; but for grid control use, data must be both trustworthy and delivered without delays. The simultaneous requirements of strong authentication and low latency are difficult to meet with standard cryptographic techniques. New technologies that further strengthen existing cyber security protections are needed.

Quantum cryptography provides a means of detecting and defeating an adversary who might try to intercept or attack the communications. Single photons are used to produce secure random numbers between users, and these random numbers are then used to authenticate and encrypt the grid control data and commands. Because the random numbers are produced securely, they act as cryptographic key material for data authentication and encryption algorithms.

At the heart of the quantum secured communications system is a miniaturized QC transmitter invention, known as a QKarD, which is five orders of magnitude smaller than competing QC devices.

“This project shows that quantum cryptography is compatible with electric grid control communications, providing strong security assurances rooted in the laws of physics, without introducing excessive delays in data delivery,” said Los Alamos principal investigator Jane Nordholt.

A late-2012 demonstration at UIUC showed that quantum cryptography provides the necessary strong security assurances with latencies (typically 250 µs, including 120 µsto traverse the 25 km of optical fiber connecting the two nodes) that are at least two orders of magnitude smaller than requirements. Further, the team’s quantum secured communications system demonstrated that this capability could be deployed with only a single optical fiber to carry the quantum single photon communications signals, data packets, and commands.

The system is also scalable to multiple monitors and several control centers.

The Los Alamos team has submitted 23 U.S. and foreign patent applications for quantum secure communications associated inventions. Licensing inquiries have also been received from companies in the electric grid control sector, and an industry workshop is planned for early 2013 when the patents will be made available for licensing.

The team is also seeking funding to develop a next generation QKarD using integrated electro-photonics methods, which would be even smaller, more highly integrated, and open the door to a manufacturing process that would result in much lower unit costs.