Achieving secure transfer of sensitive data between remote industrial production facilities

Toshiba, in partnership with BT, have successfully implemented the UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network, transmitting between the National Composites Centre (NCC), the UK’s world-leading composite research and development facility, and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), a not-for-profit research organisation that pioneers new digital engineering capabilities.

UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network

The network demonstrates how Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) can be used to secure data traffic between key industrial sites where security is of paramount importance.

The technology solution is being used to replace a ‘manual’ approach of physically transporting sensitive data on portable storage devices between the NCC and CFMS sites in Emerson’s Green and Filton in North Bristol, as well as at the University of Bristol, thereby saving time and enhancing the security of critical data. Instead of physically transmitting the data, it is now transferred at high-speed over 7km of fibre optic cable, along which the encryption keys are also transmitted as a stream of single ‘encoded’ photons.

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Innovative multiplexing technology allows the data and the quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fibre, eliminating the need for costly dedicated infrastructure for key distribution

Using standard Openreach fibre, Toshiba’s QKD system enables the distribution of 1000s of cryptographic keys per second. Its innovative multiplexing compatibility allows the data and the quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fibre, eliminating the need for costly dedicated infrastructure for key distribution. While this first deployment covers a range of 7km, the range of Toshiba’s current system extends up to 120km – allowing ultra-secure data transmission across major metropolitan environments.

The network also benefits from Toshiba’s Active Stabilisation technology, which allows the system to distribute key material continuously, in even the most challenging operating conditions, without any user intervention. This avoids the need for recalibration of the system due to temperature-induced changes in the fibre lengths.

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Significant milestone as the UK moves towards a quantum-ready economy

Across the UK, and indeed globally, modern enterprises are making investments in digital transformation a priority to evolve the way their facilities and assets perform. As this digital transformation continues at an exponential rate, and the supply chain for design and production becomes smarter and more widely distributed, securing the transmission of data between sites has become critical to protecting sensitive design and product data.

Enabling higher levels of collaborative access for the distributed supply chain, QKD will unlock the potential for IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) where ultra-secure transmission and sharing of data is crucial.

Sharing data securely using QKD has become an essential commercial consideration for business.

“We are delighted to be working with BT and Toshiba, participating in this pioneering deployment” said Marc Funnell, Head of Digital, and Director of DETI at the NCC. “As part of Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI), a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), the quantum-secure link will demonstrate the potential for the distributed offsite control of factories. Linked with 5G-Encode, this will provide access to a 5G industrial test bed at the NCC which will showcase the security, reliability and connectivity required to advance UK manufacturing.”

“As more enterprises embrace digital technologies in different ways, securing the transmission of data becomes more critical," said Nathan Harper, Head of CFMS' Engineering Compute Services. "CFMS is pioneering the use of digital engineering, deploying technologies such as AI or digital twins in which the secure transmission of data becomes essential. Sharing data using advanced encryption techniques and understanding the performance of these with our partners is therefore both exciting and very useful.”

It is expected that quantum computing will play a key role in the transformation of the UK’s economy in a post-Brexit world, with the potential to have an instrumental impact in the future of connected smart factories and Industry 4.0.

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