China launches ‘hack-proof’ quantum satellite into orbit

16 Aug 2016

China has launched the first quantum satellite into orbit with the aim of developing a new telecommunications platform that would be impermeable to hacking attempts.

While sounding like something from a science-fiction film, a quantum satellite is a new effort by researchers to use subatomic particles to securely communicate between two points on Earth.

What makes this advanced form of communication of real importance, however, is that its complexity makes it almost impossible for a hacker to intercept the message.

When an attempt is made to access the message as it passes between the two points, it changes its form so that the receiver knows that it has been tampered with, while deleting or altering the message in the process.

Until now, quantum messages have been sent between researchers on land, but a new satellite network could have greater implications for all forms of communication, whether they be military or commercial.

Now, according to AFP, China is taking the first step towards a global quantum satellite network to increase cybersecurity efforts in the one-party state.

‘The Chinese are showing the way forward’

Just last year, it was revealed that the country had passed a somewhat vague national security law that would allow the state to take “all necessary” steps to protect its sovereignty in areas like finance, religion and cybersecurity.

Speaking of what this means for the future of quantum communications, the principal investigator at the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore, Alexander Ling, said: “It moves the challenge for an eavesdropper to a different domain.

“Lots of people around the world think having secure communications at a quantum level is important. The Europeans, the Americans had the lead, but now the Chinese are showing the way forward.”

However, there remains a major challenge before a quantum satellite network can get up and running as, according to Ling, the orientation of the satellites in orbit is vitally important.

In order for it to work, the satellite will need to be located, with pinpoint accuracy, in a location where it would not be affected by any interference from the planet’s atmosphere.

China from space image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic