China's quantum communications satellite to improve data security, thwart hackers

China will launch the first quantum communications satellite in July, promising improved security of data.
China will launch the first quantum communications satellite in July, promising improved security of data.

China will send the first quantum communications satellite into orbit in July, according to the project's head scientist, Pan Jianwei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, vastly improving the secure transmission of data and thwarting the efforts of hackers.

Jianwei, speaking at a Shanghai seminar, was quoted by the Mirror as saying, "the Edward Snowden case has told us that the information in the transmission networks are exposed to risks of being monitored and being attacked by hackers."

The Quantum Science Satellite (QSS), developed as part of China's QUantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) mission, will establish quantum communications between space and earth, meaning that data sent between the two can't be stolen or copied.

Dwayne Melancon, CTO at Tripwire, called the satellite “an interesting concept” but said it likely was “more of a novelty than a practical solution” to eavesdropping.

There is a high likelihood that this satellite link will ultimately be connected to a terrestrial network, in which case the game is over,” Melancon said in comments emailed to SCMagazine.com.  “They may be able to keep it “air gapped” for a period of time to prevent cross-contamination of networks, but I think the limited utility of such an isolated network will ultimately cause China to make decisions that will result in a less secure communication link.”

The network also “still incorporates the ultimate weakness of any system: humans will use this secure network,” he added. “That means attackers will likely get what they want by taking advantage of human factors if they find the technological factors too difficult to overcome.”

Jianwei hailed the impending satellite launch as proof that China has leapt ahead of the rest of world in quantum communication, an achievement that the Mirror said has sparked concerns among those worried about the activities and intentions of the communist country, known for its secrecy and efforts to censor speech. 

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