China will set to launch the world’s first quantum communications satellite into orbit in July this year, according to China’s state media(In Chinese). This is a move designed to improve the country’s data transmission security and prevent hackers’ attack at a time when cyberattacks and global surveillance are posing threats both to nations, and individual citizens.
The satellite is said to be capable of securely sending and receiving encrypted data by establishing a strong quantum communication between space and the earth. Theoretically, this type of coding and encryption is uncrackable because of the very nature of quantum keys.
Cryptography operates through the use of an encryption key to encrypt or decrypt a message. Quantum entanglement, as is suggested by its name, refers to the act of fusing two or more particles into complementary “quantum states.” In its case, no particle can be independently described. Viewing part of an entangled system would cause it to collapse and make the information contained within it unreadable.
However, like all other forms of encryption and technology, quantum communications should not be seen as perfectly secured. It is subject to denial of service, physically tampering of the quantum communications device, human failures in operational security and impersonation of sender.
Pan Jiawei, chief scientist of China’s quantum communications research lab, first announced the plan in Shanghai earlier this year, [explaining] that
“there are many bottlenecks when it comes to information security. Cases such as the Edward Snowden incident has shown us that information in transmission networks is subject to risks of being attached or monitored by hackers.”
The Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS)—one of China’s National Space Science Centre’s “Strategic Priority Program” initiated in 2011— will complete China’s growing quantum communications network, which includes a 2,000-kilometer-long (1242-mile) network between Beijing and Shanghai, two of China’s first-tier and most metropolitan cities. The network is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2016, enabling both the government and financial organizations to test the system before it will be opened to the public. If QUESS is successful, China will collaborate scientists from Europe and build an Asian-European quantum key distribution network by 2020, to be followed by a global quantum communications network in 2030.
The QUESS is also considered as a broader series of experimental quantum encryption programs designed to address concerns over the country’s information security in the digital age, particularly in the post-Snowden era. Financial networks, government, and military are often the targets for hackers.