Virtual Proof of Reality for Nuclear Warhead Disarmament Scenarios

Nuclear arms are one of the biggest threats of our modern world. In the wrong hands, their devastating destructive power could cause unthinkable destruction with serious consequences for the whole world. Thus, most nations signed the “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” which prohibits further development of nuclear warheads. The general idea is, to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and their technology.

The United States and Russia, the two nations that own the vast majority of nuclear warheads, agreed on a steady disarmament of nuclear weapons. In this project, the Ruhr-University Bochum, together with partners from Princeton University, Harvard University and PHYSEC (a RUB Spin-off), are developing a novel technology in order to verify states within the disarmament process without relying on trusted third parties.

VPoR Team-meeting at Ruhr-University Bochum. From left to right: Thomas Bajer (PHYSEC), Johannes Tobisch (RUB), Pascal Zimmer (PHYSEC), Christof Paar (RUB), Jan Philipp Thoma (RUB, PHYSEC), Alexander Glaser (Princeton), Christian Zenger (RUB, PHYSEC), Sébastien Philippe (Princeton), Ulrich Rührmair (RUB)

Why is nuclear arms verification a complicated task?

The main challenge is, to proof, whether or not a nuclear warhead was removed or replaced, without revealing any information about the warhead itself. The goal is, to proof the statement “The warhead is still in place and has not been moved” without revealing any other information. Also, potential attackers are highly motivated and have access to nearly infinite resources (in the case of states). In order to achieve this, we are using a Zero Knowledge protocol based on the idea of Virtual Proofs of Reality (VPoR).

How do Virtual Proofs of Reality work?

For Virtual Proofs, we need two parties. One party is in possession of the warheads, while the other party wants to know whether or not the warheads have been modified. The first party has physical access to the warheads, while the second does not. Since the first party is responsible for proofing the statement, we call him the prover. The other party is called verifier. In the setup phase, the verifier extracts a digital reference fingerprint of the nuclear warhead storage room. In the subsequent virtual proof phase, new fingerprints are extracted regularly and are compared to the reference fingerprint. Only if those two fingerprints match to a satisfying degree, the integrity of the storage container is assumed to be unchanged.

Why do we need an oversea container for this?

The shipping container works as an experimental and dedicated setup environment. A dedicated environment is required for the initial research to eliminate any environmental impact on the fingerprint extraction.

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