High-speed quantum encryption may help secure the future internet

November 24, 2017, Duke University
Depiction of the proposed system in a metropolitan city where quantum-secure information is transferred between two quantum nodes. Credit: Agheal Abedzahdeh (Duke University)

Recent advances in quantum computers may soon give hackers access to machines powerful enough to crack even the toughest of standard internet security codes. With these codes broken, all of our online data—from medical records to bank transactions—could be vulnerable to attack.

To fight back against the future threat, researchers are wielding the same strange properties that drive quantum computers to create theoretically hack-proof forms of quantum data encryption.

And now, these quantum encryption techniques may be one step closer to wide-scale use thanks to a new system developed by scientists at Duke University, The Ohio State University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Their system is capable of creating and distributing encryption codes at megabit-per-second rates, which is five to 10 times faster than existing methods and on par with current internet speeds when running several systems in parallel.

The researchers demonstrate that the technique is secure from common attacks, even in the face of equipment flaws that could open up leaks.

"We are now likely to have a functioning quantum computer that might be able to start breaking the existing cryptographic codes in the near future," said Daniel Gauthier, a professor of physics at The Ohio State University. "We really need to be thinking hard now of different techniques that we could use for trying to secure the internet."

The results appear online Nov. 24 in Science Advances.

To a hacker, our online purchases, bank transactions and all look like gibberish due to ciphers called . Personal information sent over the web is first scrambled using one of these keys, and then unscrambled by the receiver using the same key.

For this system to work, both parties must have access to the same key, and it must be kept secret. Quantum key distribution (QKD) takes advantage of one of the fundamental properties of quantum mechanics—measuring tiny bits of matter like electrons or photons automatically changes their properties—to exchange keys in a way that immediately alerts both parties to the existence of a security breach.

Though QKD was first theorized in 1984 and implemented shortly thereafter, the technologies to support its wide-scale use are only now coming online. Companies in Europe now sell laser-based systems for QKD, and in a highly-publicized event last summer, China used a satellite to send a quantum key to two land-based stations located 1200 km apart.

Illustration of a high-dimensional quantum communication device capable of streaming encrypted video. Credit: Agheal Abedzahdeh (Duke University)

The problem with many of these systems, said Nurul Taimur Islam, a graduate student in physics at Duke, is that they can only transmit keys at relatively low rates—between tens to hundreds of kilobits per second—which are too slow for most practical uses on the internet.

"At these rates, quantum-secure encryption systems cannot support some basic daily tasks, such as hosting an encrypted telephone call or video streaming," Islam said.

Like many QKD systems, Islam's key transmitter uses a weakened laser to encode information on individual photons of light. But they found a way to pack more information onto each photon, making their technique faster.

By adjusting the time at which the photon is released, and a property of the photon called the phase, their system can encode two bits of information per photon instead of one. This trick, paired with high-speed detectors developed by Clinton Cahall, in electrical and computer engineering, and Jungsang Kim, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke, powers their system to transmit keys five to 10 times faster than other methods.

"It was changing these additional properties of the photon that allowed us to almost double the secure key rate that we were able to obtain if we hadn't done that," said Gauthier, who began the work as a professor of physics at Duke before moving to OSU.

In a perfect world, QKD would be perfectly secure. Any attempt to hack a key exchange would leave errors on the transmission that could be easily spotted by the receiver. But real-world implementations of QKD require imperfect equipment, and these imperfections open up leaks that hackers can exploit.

The researchers carefully characterized the limitations of each piece of equipment they used. They then worked with Charles Lim, currently a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the National University of Singapore, to incorporate these experimental flaws into the theory.

"We wanted to identify every experimental flaw in the system, and include these flaws in the theory so that we could ensure our system is secure and there is no potential side-channel attack," Islam said.

Though their transmitter requires some specialty parts, all of the components are currently available commercially. Encryption keys encoded in photons of light can be sent over existing optical fiber lines that burrow under cities, making it relatively straightforward to integrate their transmitter and receiver into the current internet infrastructure.

"All of this equipment, apart from the single-photon detectors, exist in the telecommunications industry, and with some engineering we could probably fit the entire transmitter and receiver in a box as big as a computer CPU," Islam said.

Explore further: Physicists transmit data via Earth-to-space quantum entanglement

More information: "Provably secure and high-rate quantum key distribution with time-bin qudits" Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701491 http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/11/e1701491

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13 comments

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sirdumpalot
not rated yet Nov 24, 2017
Yeah, it'll be fun when data becomes fully private - Bitcoin and its black market will look like a drop in the ocean.. our society and its individuals are not ready for full privacy.
Spaced out Engineer
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2017
Yeah, it'll be fun when data becomes fully private - Bitcoin and its black market will look like a drop in the ocean.. our society and its individuals are not ready for full privacy.


It will not happen, unless there is huge movement for it. It exists in theory:
https://www.quant...0160920/
And if this is real-time intractable there are solutions which use hackers as an informational resource:
https://www.quant...0150902/

From embedded local hijacks, like those on you hard drive firmware, to back doors pre planted, big brother wants to know what you are doing. He wants to know so bad, he got remote neural monitoring developed. Meaning your bio-relevant feedback can be read remotely with masers to decrypt you visual cortex, but also transmit voice to skull. Not only that, he wants to censor and horde data. Heard of baggage code? You won't.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2017
@Spaced, did you mean backpack code?
5555Volcanoes
not rated yet Nov 24, 2017
A totally secure Internet might be an imposibility.
It seems that the hackers are always a step ahead.
Parsec
5 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2017
A totally secure Internet might be an imposibility.
It seems that the hackers are always a step ahead.


The point is that there exists technology that guarantees unbreakability because of physical principles, not engineering or software ones. The former limits are impossible to get around.
betterexists
1 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2017
Like a Pendulum, Doing-UnDoing! Harvard Trained Mathematician & Economist Says, "Many Of Biggest Breakthroughs have come from Outsiders " ! Hollywood plot-line: " Lone Hero Emerges from nowhere to pull off Daring Rescue " ! My view is that Humans should direct Research to make themselves Photosynthetic (of course, starting with unicellular, simple multicellular ones) ! Why? To unburden the Brains. Someone came up with youtube 12 yrs. ago and we all LEARNT SO MUCH; Someone came up with The Search Engine..Hats off To Google ! Hats off to Einstein...List should go on...Not to who painted Mona Lisa, yes. https://www.thena...1.678559
betterexists
1 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2017
Like a Pendulum, Doing-UnDoing!
We have HANDS; We do NOT need Root-hairs ! EVIDENCE: BALD HEADS. Just Pickup a Glass of Water full of needed Minerals, Voila ! Abracadabra !
betterexists
1 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2017
[qJust Pickup a Glass of Water full of needed Minerals, Voila ! Abracadabra !
SIMILARLY, ALLY OUR Cerebra to Novelty: Just hit the electric car on weak battery from behind to insert a Fully-charged battery. That should suffice! We don't need any of the following: Transportable solar powered EV charging station. https://www.nextb...ion.html
Spaced out Engineer
5 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2017
@Spaced, did you mean backpack code?

Might be backpack, still can't find the article. Others have been pulled. I fucking hate data scientists that pull shit like that.
Within the globalization of information the world shrinks, if it is deterministic, as more parties share information, not destroy it. The conservation of information should be maximized, not shuffled. Its reduction remains esoteric for any connectome.

A totally secure Internet might be an imposibility.
It seems that the hackers are always a step ahead.

Yes, and no. People are always the weakest link. It is physically realizable, but will not happen. Fanciful repeaters will be used. Pseudorand to rand, embedded back doors and firmware will continue to be used to preserve the illusion. Buffer overflow does not die in interesting computation. Hard gated solutions may become printably intractable and remain application specific, thus non-adaptable and expensive. Who wants to keep burning in an FPGA?
tblakely1357
not rated yet Nov 25, 2017
Always bet on the hackers.
jimsecor
not rated yet Nov 25, 2017
Considering how far behind the US is in protection (evidenced by the present debacle), I doubt we'll see this happen.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2017
@Spaced, did you mean backpack code?
Might be backpack, still can't find the article.
Actually I think the more popular term is "knapsack code." I'm as bad as you are! ;)

Within the globalization of information the world shrinks, if it is deterministic, as more parties share information, not destroy it. The conservation of information should be maximized, not shuffled. Its reduction remains esoteric for any connectome.
Still, there is need for secrets; there are thieves. Even biometrics are vulnerable, particularly if they're remote.

Now, if we manage a post-scarcity society, this will cease to be a problem for many if not most; but we're a long way from that I think.
Da Schneib
1 / 5 (1) Nov 25, 2017
Considering how far behind the US is in protection (evidenced by the present debacle), I doubt we'll see this happen.
@jim, if a few million people get ripped off that's gonna change real fast. And it's coming. Put a couple major financial corprats down and distribute their assets in the courts and the legislature and they'll get real security conscious real fast.

It's not the money. It's the money. -Wulf Grajonca, AKA Bill Graham, concert promoter, 1931-1991

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