The problem of network security bottlenecks is set to be countered by an optical firewall.
Currently capable of analysing data on fibre optic networks at speeds of 40 gigabits per second, it is being developed by researchers who have identified bottlenecks as demand increases for data-intensive services.
Graeme Maxwell, vice president for Integration Technologies at CIP Technologies in the UK, is leading the WISDOM project who have demonstrated optical circuits capable of searching for and identifying target data patterns at wire speeds of 40Gb/s.
The optical firewall looks for patterns in the header content of data packets to single out threats and acts as a high-speed filter that routes suspect packets to electronic processes for further analysis.
Due to there being no optical equivalent of electronic memory, the entire process has to be carried out on the fly.
Maxwell expects the first commercial application of the boards to be for data transmission over fibre optic networks, with their implementation for network security likely to follow within the next five years.
He said: “It's the data analogy of many little streams quickly feeding into a river and causing a massive flood.”
“There is a real need for an optical security solution – and that is what we are developing. Think about all the applications for today's electronic PCBs – they are everywhere! Optical boards could have a similar range of uses in the future.
“The WISDOM project is demonstrating the functionality of an optical firewall, hopefully to the point where we can bring additional manufacturers onboard in a follow-up project. There are barriers to its acceptance that need to be overcome.”