Walton Institute building at night

In the latest Enterprise Ireland Capital Call for Equipment, the TSSG Technology Gateway at Walton Institute acquired funding to assist with research and development and will provide industry access to two new exciting areas.

One new testbed, a ‘Quantum Security Testbed’ and a Portable RF Spectrum Monitor will be housed at the Walton Institute data centre and will be fully accessible to industry for whatever their need.

Quantum Security Testbed:

Currently, up until now, no Quantum Security Testbed has existed in Ireland. This new Quantum Security testbed will provide a security model in mission critical industries where trust is paramount, particularly in  applications such as those deployed for e-Health, finance, food production and energy.

The ability to download now and decrypt later means that, even if they are only available in several years, quantum computers pose a genuine threat to data security today. This is especially true for the archiving and long-term storage of digital assets, such as Intellectual Property, blockchain/crypto-assets – such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), financial or medical records; essentially anything that might traditionally be stored in a vault. The Quantum Security Testbed creates an environment where technology solutions providers can develop innovative solutions for their clients.

The Quantum Security Testbed will consist of multiple banking grade security systems leveraging quantum technologies that industry can utilise and manipulate to create novel identity and data protection solutions. These include:

  • Quantum Random Number Generators (QRNGs),
  • Firewalls with VPN capabilities (encryptors),
  • Hardware Security Modules (HSMs),
  • Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) systems.

The QRNGs lay the first building blocks to providing high quality, truly random entropy to generate encryption keys. The keys (or crypto-assets) will then be stored in HSMs, providing a tamper proof, reliable, and highly secure repository for the keys that end devices will use. The keys will never be stored on the end devices and therefore cannot be lost or leaked through theft or remote access. The encryptors will use the keys stored in the HSMs to create site-to-site VPNs. Lastly, a QKD system when deployed between two sites (data centres) ensures non-refutably secure transmission of keys or other crypto-assets between two locations, for backup or digital asset custody.

The main strength of this testbed lies in the strict separation between the three elements: key and asset generation, asset storage, and access to assets. By combining several cryptosystems (QRNG, HSM, and QKD) with cryptoprotocols (one time pad, secret sharing schemes), it ensures that the safe storage of private keys (the proof of a digital asset’s ownership) is “Information-Theoretically Secure” (ITS), meaning that such a system cannot be hacked by an external adversary even with unlimited computing power.

Many financial institutions and cyber security companies already use ‘Commodity components’ but using QKD’s will allow these companies to add a new quantum security layer to their existing systems. Furthermore the innovation process can be de-risked by bringing quantum communications and algorithms expertise to the testbed users. This will become a new offering by Walton Institute and collaborative linkage with MTU, which will bring Quantum Communications to the Space Cluster / Industry.

We are bound to see more future emerging applications as “Information Theoretically Secure” data services becomes more mainstream with this new equipment, and Ireland can lead the way with research and innovation using QKD’s and an extra layer of quantum-safe security on top of existing bank-grade custody solutions. This will also contribute to push tokenized finance and blockchain technologies forward. The equipment will be used to provide training and upskilling workshops in the areas of quantum communications systems and cybersecurity applications, helping to address the cybersecurity shortage and skills gap previously identified by Cyber Ireland.

Portable RF Spectrum Monitoring Receiver:

The second service offering provided by the Enterprise Capital Equipment is a Portable RF Spectrum Monitoring Receiver:

As is commonly known, wirelesss communications and increasingly with the emergence of more IoT applications, a mixture of licenced and unlicenced spectrums are becoming more and more crowded and subject to noise and interference as more radio links are polluting the networks being sought out.

While there is some protection offered to licenced links, being able to provide the communications Regulator (ComReg) with detailed information on interference to licenced links will reduce the time it takes to resolve interference issues (which could be causing an outage for one or many customers). Being able to find the source of interference to unlicenced links will in most cases help in finding a path towards a resolution, or at the very least identify where the issue is coming from so alternative arrangements can quickly be put in place.

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs), which have been scaling since the Covid-19 pandemic, are serving a wider set of the domestic remote worker and new local business parks, which in turn is showing an increased potential for interference. For tech support, symptoms can range from low data throughput, customers being forced to re-login, pixelation of digital video signals, dropped audio on messaging platforms (Teams/Zoom etc.) This creates extra pressure on WISPs as more people are using the networks in new areas outdoors where the demand was not previously required. Also, there is new demand in the Tourism Sector for immersive technology and this adds extra pressure to the networks to provide seamless consistent services, especially in remote areas where 4/5G is not readily available. These new services require high speed, low-latency and no interference. There is also a crucial need to service new housing estates and apartments where Fibre Broadband is not available.

Wireless networks are set up to the nearest access point (Fibre or otherwise) and a monitoring receiver, designed for interference hunting, allows for the provision of internet services to these areas readily and quickly allowing networks to be assigned. By using this equipment, pre-installation, to check a site or a link between sites for interference this will give the WISP assurance at installation time that the link will perform as expected.

Having a portable monitoring receiver on the first site visit decreases the number of times a site needs to be revisited and dealt with by the technical support teams. Without the extra pressure on the customer service side, WISPs can focus more on expanding their networks and cater for new clients. Very often WISPs utilise fibre networks, paying for new fibre connections and creating wireless links to stretch the service to new customers providing there are licenced frequencies available which should be interference free.

In this way WISPs have been instrumental in facilitating the growth of the Fibre Broadband network in Ireland and helping more people to access the Internet.  This is where the portable monitoring receiver is serving this sector, and within the Space industry where the channel width may be anything from 100KHz through to 100-200MHZ. These surveys would be in ITU satellite bands from VHF up to Ka-Band (26.5 – 40Ghz) and possibly Q/V in the future.

This article was first published on the Walton Institute website.

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