Quantum Key Distribution


Creation process: Plan, Meet, Agree and Publish

Based on the outcome of the EC FP6-project SECOQC (Secure Communication based on Quantum Cryptography), an Industry Specification Group (ISG) of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) shall bring together the important European actors from science, industry, and commence to address standardisation issues in quantum cryptography, and quantum technology in general.

During recent years quantum cryptography has been the object of a vivid activity and rapid progress, and it is now extending into a competitive industry with commercial products. Quantum Key Distribution is a cryptographic primitive. Analysing the cryptographic implications of Quantum Key Distribution is a very complex task. It requires a combination of knowledge belonging to separate academic and industry communities, ranging from classical cryptography to fundamental quantum mechanics and network security.

Many countries outside Europe have already made efforts to kick-off national standardisation for quantum technologies. Some companies in those countries are even aiming for de facto standards, organising workshops promoting their solutions.

None of these initiatives have moved beyond the identification of a need for standardisation yet.

Several European SMEs have based their business models on Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). In addition a number of industrial players, from both ETSI members and non-ETSI members have already heavily invested in QKD R&D as part of projects under the umbrella of the EC Framework Programs 6 and 7. The FP6 SECOQC project, for example, has 8 members or applicant members of ETSI as partners, most of whom are driving the establishment of the ISG at ETSI, and is the leading European research activity on QKD.

This makes it clear that there is increasing interest in standardization for quantum key distribution, and the window of opportunity for ETSI to lead such work is closing. There is now a critical mass of interested parties in Europe.

Quantum cryptography has great potential to become the key technology for securing confidentiality and privacy of communication in the future ICT world and thus to become the driver for the success of a series of services in the field of e-government, e-commerce, e-health, transmission of biometric data, intelligent transport systems and many others.

Its power stems from the fact that quantum communication allows for a new primitive, which permits two parties to establish a secret key from a short pre-shared secret and a public exchange, i.e. something which was never possible with classical, non-quantum means.

Quantum cryptography is considered the only truly secure key-distribution technology (except for secret courier), while conventional asymmetrical cryptography, which is almost exclusively used for key distribution nowadays, is likely to be rendered insecure by the advent of extremely powerful computers , including quantum computers. The security of quantum cryptography instead does not depend on the limitation of an attacker's computing power. It is secure against attackers with arbitrary classical or quantum computing power, if side channels are well controlled.

Successfully transferring quantum cryptography out of the controlled and trusted environment of experimental laboratories into the real world with business requirements, malevolent attackers, and societal and legal norms to be respected, calls for special provisions. These provisions, though crucial for successful deployment, have not been sufficiently addressed yet. The ETSI QKD on quantum cryptography wants to shift the focus from development in laboratories to the real life environment.

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The following is a list of recently published and frequently downloaded standards. Please use the ETSI Work Program to find further related standards.

Standard No. Standard title.
GS QKD 003 Quantum Key Distribution (QKD); Components and Internal Interfaces
GS QKD 005 Quantum Key Distribution (QKD); Security Proofs
GS QKD 008 Quantum Key Distribution (QKD); QKD Module Security Specification
GS QKD 004 Quantum Key Distribution (QKD); Application Interface
GS QKD 002 Quantum Key Distribution (QKD); Use Cases