Quantum key distribution technology: Secure computing for the 'Everyman'

Sep 03, 2014 by James E. Rickman
This small device developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory uses the truly random spin of light particles as defined by laws of quantum mechanics to generate a random number for use in a cryptographic key that can be used to securely transmit information between two parties. Quantum key distribution represents a foolproof cryptography method that may now become available to the general public, thanks to a licensing agreement between Los Alamos and Whitewood Encryption Systems, LLC. Los Alamos scientist developed their particular method for quantum cryptography after two decades of rigorous testing inside of the nation's premier national security science laboratory.

The largest information technology agreement ever signed by Los Alamos National Laboratory brings the potential for truly secure data encryption to the marketplace after nearly 20 years of development at the nation's premier national-security science laboratory.

"Quantum systems represent the best hope for truly secure because they store or transmit information in ways that are unbreakable by conventional cryptographic methods," said Duncan McBranch, Chief Technology Officer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. "This licensing agreement with Whitewood Encryption Systems, Inc. is historic in that it takes our groundbreaking technical work that was developed over two decades into commercial encryption applications."

By harnessing the quantum properties of light for generating random numbers, and creating cryptographic keys with lightning speed, the technology enables a completely new commercial platform for real-time encryption at high data rates. For the first time, ordinary citizens and companies will be able to use cryptographic systems that have only been the subject of experiments in the world's most advanced physics and computing laboratories for real-world applications.

If implemented on a wide scale, technology could ensure truly secure commerce, banking, communications and data transfer.

The technology at the heart of the agreement is a compact random-number-generation technology that creates based on the truly random polarization state of light particles known as photons. Because the randomness of photon polarization is based on quantum mechanics, an adversary cannot predict the outcome of this . This represents a vast improvement over current "random-number" generators that are based on mathematical formulas that can be broken by a computer with sufficient speed and power.

Moreover, any attempt by a third party to eavesdrop on the secure communications between quantum key holders disrupts the quantum system itself, so communication can be aborted and the snooper detected before any data is stolen.

The Los Alamos technology is simple and compact enough that it could be made into a unit comparable to a computer thumb drive or compact data-card reader. Units could be manufactured at extremely low cost, putting them within easy retail range of ordinary electronics consumers.

Whitewood Encryption Systems, Inc. of Boston, Mass., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Allied Minds. The agreement provides exclusive license for several Los Alamos-created quantum-encryption patents in exchange for consideration in the form of licensing fees.

"Whitewood aims to address one of the most difficult problems in securing modern communications: scalability—meeting the need for low-cost, low-latency, high-security systems that can effectively service increasingly complex data security needs," said John Serafini, Vice President at Allied Minds. "Whitewood's foundation in quantum mechanics makes it uniquely suited to satisfy demand for the of data both at rest as well as in transit, and in the mass quantity and high-throughput requirements of today's digital environment."

Explore further: A 'quantum leap' in encryption technology

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Urgelt
not rated yet Sep 04, 2014
"Moreover, any attempt by a third party to eavesdrop on the secure communications between quantum key holders disrupts the quantum system itself, so communication can be aborted and the snooper detected before any data is stolen."

Might want to check that out more carefully.

This device is not a quantum communications system, it's just a random number generator for use in conventional communications. It enhances the security of crypto keys against brute-force cracking attempts. If the packets are intercepted, copied, what have you, it won't change the information encoded in the packets, so no, this technology doesn't make packets tamper-proof.

It's not fool-proof, either.

Breaking crypto keys by attacking them on the basis of the mathematical algorithms used to generate random numbers is not something that criminals can do. That's something only a handful of governments can do. Criminal attacks happen at different points of vulnerability which this technology does not address.
Urgelt
not rated yet Sep 04, 2014
I say it's not foolproof because the device has to be attached to a computer port and interact with software on the computer. If there's one thing we know to be true, it's that computers are low-trust environments, quite vulnerable to malicious attacks. This technology won't help with that at all.

And that assumes that the random numbers generated by the device, to be used as seeds for encryption keys, are actually as random as claimed. That's going to be hard for the general public to know.

But even if they *are* as random as claimed, the random number seeds will still be cranked into conventional encryption algorithms. If those algorithms have weaknesses, a strong key probably won't be enough to close those holes.

I really don't see where this technology does most people any good. It's sort of like building a six-foot-thick concrete wall on ONE side of your house to protect against snipers, then constructing the rest of the house with cardboard.
Urgelt
not rated yet Sep 04, 2014
One more point. Algorithmic random number generators are not truly random. That's true. But that just isn't the weakest point in communications today. It's still damned hard to break a decently-encrypted message; hard enough so that people who seek to break it *always* look for ways around the encryption. Brute-forcing doesn't yield much, most of the time. That's why FBI and NSA and CIA are using malicious software, intercepting devices in the mail and modifying them, or attempting to capture communications before encryption or after decryption. And it's why courts are demanding passwords and threatening contempt of court if defendants refuse to supply them. Encryption as it stands today is a HUGE pain in the butt to those who want to control us and know what we're thinking and doing. This new tech doesn't add much to that truth.
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Sep 04, 2014
LOL Do not use, or give advice on, technology not personally understood.

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