Scientists from the University of York have demonstrated the ability of an innovative quantum-based technique for distributing secure information along communication lines to successfully prevent serious security breaches.
Various organizations and companies across the globe face the major challenge of securing highly sensitive information, such as bank details and hospital records. Standard communication systems are prone to hacks, where it is possible to intercept and copy the encrypted information. At present, although hackers would be able to make a copy of the transmitted information, they cannot read it without a technique for breaking the encryption protecting the information.
This indicated that although the information could be secure for a specific period of time, it cannot be guaranteed that it would be secure forever, since supercomputers under development could prospectively decrypt specific encryptions in the future.
Based on the quantum mechanical principles, the York researchers tested a prototype that has the ability to evade the frailties of prevalent communications, and also to enable information to be secure in the future.
According to Dr Cosmo Lupo, from the University of York’s Department of Computer Science, “Quantum mechanics has come a long way, but we are still faced with significant problems that have to be overcome with further experimentation.”
“One such problem is that a hacker can attack the electronic devices used for information transmission by jamming the detectors that are used to collect and measure the photons that carries information.”
“Such an attack is powerful because we assume that a given device works according to its technical specifications and will therefore perform its job. If a hacker is able to attack a detector and change the way it works, then the security is unavoidably compromised.”
“The principles of quantum mechanics, however, allows for communication security even without making assumptions on how the electronic devices will work. By removing these assumptions we pay the price of lowering the communication rate, but gain in improving the security standard.”
Rather than depending on potentially compromised electronic components at the point at which information has to be detected and read, the scientists discovered that if the unreliable detectors were located at a separate point in the communications—someplace between the sender and receiver—the communication was even more secure.
A combination of two signals would be received by the detector—one from the sender and one from the receiver. The detector would be in a position to read only the result of this combined signal, and not its component parts.
Dr Lupo stated, “In our work, not only have we provided a first rigorous mathematical proof that this ‘detector- independent’ design works, but we have also considered a scheme that is compatible with existing optical fibre communication networks.”
“In principle our proposal can allow for the exchange of unbreakable codes across the internet without major changes in the actual infrastructure.”
“We are still at prototype stage, but by finding ways to reduce the cost of these systems, we are that much closer to making quantum communications a reality.”
The study has been funded by the EPSRC Quantum Communications hub and the Quantum Innovation Center Qubiz. It has been published in the Physical Review Letters journal.