ABN AMRO investing in quantum technology

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Many people are convinced that innovations and applications based on quantum technology are the way of the future. Just Google ‘quantum technology’ and you’ll find numerous videos explaining the basics in highly original ways, often using cats or mazes. We’re talking big promises and high expectations. (Credits beeld: Scixel/ TU Delft)

Three pioneers in this field have hooked up and forged a partnership. QuTech (a collaboration between TNO and TU Delft) and ABN AMRO are embarking on a new phase – together they want to prove that the circle of optimally secured data traffic can be encrypted using an advanced Quantum Key Distribution system that works via fibre optics and air. This is the only way to guarantee the security of online and mobile banking, now and in the future.

Quantum, a rapidly developing technology that’s here to stay

By far the most frequently used term within quantum technology is quantum computing. Experts expect that, within five to ten years, quantum computers will be able to make calculations that traditional computers are fundamentally unable to do. This has many positive implications for future applications and developments. However, quantum technology can be used not only for good, but for darker purposes as well. The future ‘universal’ quantum computer – which is expected to be operating in ten to fifteen years – has the potential to crack today’s encryption methods. Current security systems for internet and mobile banking will no longer be sufficient.

Transformation

Having said that, the emergence of quantum technologies could usher in ultra-strict security standards. Connecting users with one another via quantum networks could produce fundamentally secure connections. Such connections make use of the quantum phenomenon of ‘entanglement’, with which it is always noticeable if somebody tries to eavesdrop or gather data in another way. Quantum technology is still in its infancy, and there’s still plenty of research to be done on the commercial application of quantum networks. ABN AMRO is already working with QuTech to create proven applications of quantum technology.

Martijn Dekker, Chief Information Security Officer at ABN AMRO: “We all need to move from ‘talk’ to ‘walk’ – it’s time for action. We can only hope that this kind of technology-driven development is embraced at an early stage.”

Approach

With a view to maximising security, the parties are focusing on creating an advanced system for Measurement Device Independent-Quantum Key Distribution (MDI-QKD). This new form of QKD will allow several users to connect with one another through a central measurement and to exchange unique and complex codes. It’s virtually impossible to eavesdrop on this technology. QuTech and ABN AMRO are also using a combination of different media to further boost security. The quantum connection is established by laser communication via existing fibre-optic connections (as was previously done by QuTech scientists) and by air (free space), via a method developed by TNO Space and Scientific Instrumentation.

Partners

At first glance, you wouldn’t think a bank would have anything to do with the development of quantum technology. But the knowledge and experience of working with sensitive data was exactly the link that QuTech was looking for. “We wanted to test concrete and real applications on a party in ‘real life’,” says Kees Eijkel, Director of Business Development at QuTech. “Each of the partners brings a specific and essential specialisation to this pioneering project.”

TNO Space and Scientific Instrumentation bring to the table knowledge on space-based optical satellite communication. Kees Buijsrogge, Director of TNO Space: “I’m delighted that we can use our knowledge of laser communication to make an important contribution to the security systems for online and mobile banking.”

TU Delft, TU Delft, specifically the Quantum Internet and Networked Computing (QINC) Roadmap at QuTech, specialises in quantum communication systems that create a fundamentally secure connection and generate unique (and secret) codes. ABN AMRO focuses on the ability to receive and process the quantum key data offered, with the quality and security guaranteed.

Edwin van Bommel, Chief Innovation Officer at ABN AMRO: “This is a promising initiative. I immediately saw that this is a valuable step towards a new eco-system, in combination with a good business case.”

Ripple effect

The decision to take part in this development was based not only on each partner’s own role in the project. Where possible, other interested parties will be added to the eco-system in order to accelerate progress. In the long run, many industries will feel the effect of developments in quantum technology. For example, this project is creating the foundation for a quantum-secured network. Government, critical infrastructures and defence – both within and beyond the Dutch and European borders – can all benefit.

That’s good reason to support these developments and welcome solutions in this stage.

Demonstration

QuTech, TNO Space and ABN AMRO expect to be able to demonstrate a fundamentally secure data connection at the end of 2020, with quantum communication being transmitted via fibre optics and air.

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