Security Advisor

Government Lab Reveals Secure Quantum Internet

Will quantum cryptography provide air-tight security?

Los Alamos National Lab, the famous New Mexico institution that was charged with the creation of the atomic bomb in the 1940s, continues to make significant news. This week, it announced it had been running a quantum Internet for two years now.

In layman's terms (which is the extent of my knowledge of quantum computing), the idea is that a quantum Internet can allow completely secure communication because encoding of the 0s and 1s is done on a subatomic level. Lasers are used to send a message as light waves. This means that when another tries to intercept a quantum message, the photons used in the computing will reflect the breach -- alerting the user of whom and where the eavesdrop is taking place the moment it happens.

Once that happens, I believe Skynet then sends back a time-traveling android to eliminate the threat. But I could be wrong on that. The theory is quite complex and some of the details might have sailed over my head.

What I do understand is that not only does quantum cryptography step up the possible security of communication, it's also relatively lightweight compared to our current Internet infrastructure.

Rolando Somma, a member of the team at Los Alamos, said in a comment to TechNewsWorld:

"One promising application for network-centric quantum communications is lightweight cryptography for the smart grid, where conventional cryptography has difficulty meeting combined security and low-latency communication requirements."

The Los Alamos system is based on a hub and spoke-inspired network. So far the Los Alamos team has only been able to achieve point-to-point communication between two systems. Due to the nature that current Internet communication is routed multiple times, the quantum messaging has potential to be compromised each time it is routed. The solution should come in the form of quantum routers -- something that is currently not available on store shelves. But a handful of tech companies are currently working on consumer-grade models.

There's also news this week that a network for quantum cryptography is already on its way. Canadian satellite firm Com Dev said it is actively working on a prototype satellite that can be used for the new form of communication, and it could be ready sometime later this year.

Com Dev said it's using cheaper, off-the-shelf parts in the satellite construction because of the overall uncertainty that is a new technology. Who knows if the atmosphere can even support quantum distribution? And, if our atmosphere can support such a distribution, a practical network is still years away. The firm is shooting for a public demonstration of the technology in 2016.

While quantum cryptography could potentially provide the most-secure form of communication we've ever seen, just like every network, it won't be 100 percent invulnerable.

The University of Waterloo's Institute for Quantum Computing has been putting its $160 million facility to good use in trying to (and having success) crack quantum encrypted messages with the help of an anonymous white hat hacker and two quantum computers named "Alice" and "Bob."

The trick is that those future attackers looking to battle quantum cryptography head on will need to discard the hacker handbook of go-to plays and exploits used today.

"If you want to crack quantum communication, you have to do it in real time," said Martin LaForest, PhD and a senior manager at IQC, to Venturebeat. "When you try to observe it, you perturb it ... and you can't copy it because copying is the same thing, give or take, as looking and copying."

For those looking to get into the highly technical details of Los Alamos National Lab's breakthrough technology, knock yourself out.

What's your take on quantum cryptography? Do you see it fundamentally changing our security landscape? Will it spawn a new breed of hacker? Let me know in the comments below.

About the Author

Chris Paoli (@ChrisPaoli5) is the associate editor for Converge360.


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