North Korea claims it has invented a system for secure quantum-cryptographic communications, according to a report from the state-run Naenara news outlet published on Friday.
Quantum cryptography leverages the intrinsic properties of quantum theory to secure communications against outside interference or hacking.
“The scientists of Kim Il Sung University have succeeded in developing a quantum code communications technology, which makes it possible to open up a bright prospect for blocking various kinds of hacking and wiretapping from their sources by taking hold of its core technologies,” the Naenara report claims.
The article adds that DPRK scientists have solved “all the problems” associated with the technology, having designed bespoke circuits, and go on to say they can securely encode “all communications concerning images, sound and documents.”
“I’m guessing they are talking about quantum key distribution. These systems are used to establish the cryptographic keys between two parties,” Dr Matthew Rose-Clarke, a former Ph.D. researcher at CERN, told NK News.
“As observing the system changes it, if someone is listening in then the system will already have collapsed, making it much harder to eavesdrop on.”
While there are some cases of quantum key generation being used commercially, so far they are expensive and limited in range and scalability.
Recent articles from the technology press and industry sites indicate that quantum key distribution can work over short distances, but research is ongoing to make such systems viable over more useful ranges. The current record is held by a Chinese team which transmitted quantum encrypted messages over 404km.
While North Korea is already largely cut off from the external internet – limiting its vulnerability to more traditional hacking – mastering the technology might provide the DPRK’s most secretive programs with another layer of security.
“Hacking North Korea is a challenge because it’s so cut off … but getting something like this to work would help insulate the networks from attacks carried out by infiltrators or spies,” Martyn Williams, author of the North Korea Tech website, told NK News.
“The question is if this is working beyond the labs. To be useful, it needs to operate over longer distances. Quantum cryptography is still in its infancy.”
A previous NK News interview with a former technical director at Orascom, who helped set up North Korea’s phone and communications networks, revealed the country’s elite used a secret communications channel not accessible to most DPRK residents.
The elite network has its own software and algorithms and was put in place as the North Korean authorities did not have access to the more sophisticated hardware used by other governments.