Quantum Encryption Just Took One More Step Toward Beating Hackers

Thursday, 02 February 2017 - 2:36PM
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Weird Science
Thursday, 02 February 2017 - 2:36PM
Quantum Encryption Just Took One More Step Toward Beating Hackers
Image credit: Baltic Servers
Between Russian hackers and insecure email servers, this past election has proved that cyber security is going to be extremely important moving forward. But with the advent of quantum computers, it's only going to become harder to keep data safe from those with the motive and the right tools. Fortunately, scientists believe they may have found a solution within the same principles that guide quantum computing: quantum encryption

To fully understand the scope of what quantum computers can do, it's important to realize that it might take current, non-quantum computers longer than the total age of the universe to crack certain encryptions. But, as grad student Chris Pugh explained in a recent interview with Wired, quantum computers might be able to crack the same codes in "a matter of hours or days".

The magic of quantum encryption is that, despite being based on similar principles, quantum computers can't interfere with it—in theory, nothing can. Using quantum entanglement (what Einstein called 'spooky action at a distance'), methods like quantum key distribution can encode data in particles sort of like Morse code or a binary bit, then send them. These particles are 'entangled,' which means each one has been paired with a double, which resides in the hands of the sender. This is where the magic happens, according to PopSci:

Opening quote
"Entanglement allows two particles to behave like a single entity, no matter how far apart they are. Meddle with one particle, and its partner instantly reacts, even at the opposite end of the universe, revealing the presence of a hacker."
Closing quote


The main issue with quantum encryption, however, is distance: most recently, the range at which encrypted messages can be transmitted has been limited to around 250 miles. In an interconnected world, that is far too short a distance. But Pugh, along with a small team, has begun experimenting with ways to dramatically increase the range on quantum encryption. A recent experiment involved flying a plane, attempting to send encrypted photons to it, and seeing how many could be received via a telescope onboard the plane. The experiment was a relative success (a lot of photons were received and decoded), but it's only the first step.

Long term, many scientists hope that they can beam such photon encryptions not to planes, but to satellites. If this can be achieved, one front of the data-hacking arms race may be over...forever.
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