China’s First Quantum Satellite: A hit or a Miss?
In the last 48 hours, a group of mysterious hackers named the Shadow Brokers have broken into the operating systems of Equation Group, another high level veteran hacking group with strong links to the creators of the one of the world’s deadliest cyber weapons- the Stuxnet, which was used to compromise a nuclear facility in Iran. The Shadow Brokers have even provided a section of Equation group files from the hacked systems as proof to back their claim and are auctioning off these cyber weapons to the highest bidder. Whether the bidders have good intentions or not is not their concern; they are only after the money. Amidst all these cyber wars who get to experience the most damage if not the casualties of the target regions? This is where Micius, China’s latest quantum satellite can handy come in.
What is Micius?
Micius is a 600 kg quantum satellite that was launched into space, for the very first time, by China on Tuesday August 16, 2016 over the Gobi desert. The satellite was launched from the Jiuquan camp located in the North West region of China. It was air lifted into space in the late hours of the night at around 1.40 am with the aid of a March-2D rocket.
The satellite is on a two year mission to develop a sophisticated communication network that cannot be hacked by any cyber terrorist; whether already in existence or yet to be formed. Its key missions is to enable countries and commercial firms worldwide, starting with China, protect their most valued intelligence systems and information from harmful access by unauthorized third parties. These systems will involve links to both commercial as well as military systems that manage the financial and security protocols of the countries involved.
A hit or a miss? I think it is hit. Given the increased number of cybercrimes that are reported on an annual basis, this is the closest thing to a solution of a problem of this magnitude. Nations have been crippled by cyber terrorists, governments have been left stranded and economies have dropped courtesy of this type of crime. Time will tell if Micius manages to solve this problem but as at now, it is a step in the right direction.
The Satellite’s Basic Concepts
In order to create an end-to-end encrypted communications system where hacking by third parties through conventional means is not an option, the satellite utilizes quantum communications technology. This type of communication uses subatomic particles in order to send packets of data or information between two points in the most secured manner. Secure in this case means that incase a third party tries to access the information illegally, the sender is alerted immediately. This prompts the sender to take swift precautionary measures to protect the information. Alternatively, unauthorized access can lead to the information under transmission to self-terminate through alteration in an unreadable format or complete deletion.
Even though the quantum technology has been previously used before by researchers to communicate over land, it is the first time it has been successfully integrated over the air in satellites. The biggest advantage of course comes in the ease by which information can be conveyed over miles to any corner of the world at a very fast speed not to mention the security that comes with the information during transmission.
The use of quantum messaging technology could become a major step towards the fight against hackers and cyber criminals. It has a broad spectrum of platforms to apply or utilize such as military monitoring, online shopping and online payments as well as government communication systems.
The biggest challenge so far to the success of this quantum satellite is the accuracy of transmission. It is difficult to fully relay information over miles between the satellite position and an exact geographical location on the Earth’s surface without other atmospheric factors coming into play. Disturbances on the Earth’s atmosphere may not affect the credibility of the data being transmitted but can tremendously decrease the speed with which the data is transmitted not to mention the loss of pinpoint accuracy with which the information is relayed to an exact geographical location. Theoretically this problem has a solution but in real sense the Chinese researchers are still working around the practical solution to it and hopeful in the future, one will be found.
China Launches the world’s first ‘hack-proof’ Quantum Satellite
Triumphant Achievement for China?
China has spent insane amounts of resources and money alike in trying to utilize the quantum technology over a variety of its economic sectors from banking, trade and military systems. The development of the quantum link between Shanghai and Beijing to facilitate exchange of information between banks and state agencies is just a tip of the iceberg.
This is a major step in space protection. The Chinese government is on its way towards attaining technological sovereignty with this high-end satellite gizmo. They will now have complete authority over their military defense systems, financial processes and economic parameters such as trade systems. The fact that they have triumphed in a field where many nations including superpowers have lagged behind, they deserve credit and respect in the field of research.