World Cup Security Uses Physics To Thwart Hackers

Jun 21, 2010 By Devin Powell

South African physicists working to protect data networks at the World Cup hope to provide something that no goalkeeper can promise: perfect defense. They're tapping the laws of physics to prevent hackers from monitoring videos, emails and phone calls relayed between Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium and a nearby operations center for police, firefighters, and military personnel.

The stadium's quantum cryptography system, installed by researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, is an emerging technology thought to be in regular use by military and intelligence organizations but rarely showcased on such a public stage.

"The goal is to ensure not only the confidentially but also the integrity of this information," said Gregoire Ribordy, CEO of ID Quantique in Geneva, which developed the system with Senetas Corporation in Australia. ID Quantique, whose clients are primarily military and financial organizations, used similar technology to secure ballot information in the 2007 Swiss elections.

Data -- whether ballots or stadium security footage -- flows over fiber optic cables as a series of ones and zeros that can be stolen by hackers, who can tap into and monitor a line. To protect the information, it is often encoded in a way that can only be unlocked with a key. This key is often a second string of ones and zeros transmitted over the same line as the data.

Traditional means of encrypting such a key use mathematical functions that are difficult -- but not impossible -- to undo.

Quantum cryptography, on the other hand, uses the principles of quantum mechanics to provide theoretically uncrackable security. It sends the key as a series of particles of light, or photons. Because the act of observing one of these "" fundamentally changes it, eavesdroppers can't help but reveal themselves -- in theory.

In practice, the equipment developed to send photons back and forth is not perfect -- some of the are lost, some are transmitted incorrectly -- so anyone receiving a quantum key must expect a certain level of error. A clever hacker might be able to figure out a way to disguise eavesdropping as error, said Hoi Kwong Lo of the University of Toronto. Last month his team was the first to hack an ID Quantique system in a laboratory -- albeit a less secure version than the one in use at the .

"I think it's premature to say whether commercial systems are secure or not," said Lo. "It's much easier to hack a system than to make a system secure."

First proposed more than three decades ago, has only been developed into commercial systems in recent years. The World Cup system, installed in April by researchers at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Centre for Quantum Technology, is part of a larger plan to deploy quantum security systems throughout Durban.

Explore further: For Google's self-driving cars, learning to deal with the bizarre is essential

Provided by Inside Science News Service

4.5 /5 (8 votes)

Related Stories

Cryptic messages boost data security

Nov 29, 2007

The Swiss national elections in October 2007 provided the opportunity to witness quantum cryptography in ‘real-life’ action for the first time. Geneva was first in line to test the unbreakable data code ...

Laser security for the Internet

Mar 23, 2010

A British computer hacker equipped with a "Dummies" guide recently tapped into the Pentagon. As hackers get smarter, computers get more powerful and national security is put at risk. The same goes for your own personal and ...

Recommended for you

Bluetooth may be the key to your future smart home

Nov 25, 2014

If you've ever considered trying to turn your house into a smart home, you've likely found the prospect expensive or technologically intimidating. That situation could soon change, thanks in part to an old ...

Self-driving cars could be the answer to congested roads

Nov 24, 2014

If cars with drivers still suffer under gridlock conditions on roads, how will driverless cars fare any better? With greater computerisation and network awareness, driverless cars may be the answer to growing ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gunnie
5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2010
The stadium shown in the picture is the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa, not Moses Mabhida.
antialias
3 / 5 (1) Jun 22, 2010
For data transfer with a limited number of participants and a known upper limit to the total volume there's only one good way: one-time pads (e.g. randomly generated from the decay intervals of radioactive atoms)

Unless someone hacks into your computer and steals the pad-file such systems are 100% secure.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.