Quantum step forward in protecting communications from hackers

June 20, 2018, University of York
Quantum step forward in protecting communications from hackers
A hacker can attack the electronic devices used for information transmission. Credit: University of York

Researchers at the University of York have shown that a new quantum-based procedure for distributing secure information along communication lines could be successful in preventing serious security breaches.

Securing highly sensitive information, such as hospital records and bank details, is a major challenge faced by companies and organisation throughout the world.

Standard systems are vulnerable to hacks, where encrypted information can be intercepted and copied. It is currently possible for hackers to make a copy of transmitted information, but it would not be possible to read it without a method of breaking the encryption that protects it.

This means that information might be secure for a period of time, but there is no guarantee that it would be secure forever, as supercomputers in development could potentially decipher particular encryptions in the future.

Researchers at York investigated a prototype, based on the principles of , that has the potential to side-step the vulnerabilities of current communications, but also allow information to be secure in the future.

Powerful attack

Dr. Cosmo Lupo, from the University of York's Department of Computer Science, said: "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 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 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."

Two signals

Instead of relying on possibly compromised electronic components at the point at which needs to be detected and read, the researchers found that if the untrusted detectors existed at a separate point in the communications – somewhere between the sender and receiver—the communication was far more secure.

The detector would receive a combination of two signals, one from the sender and one from the receiver. The detector would only be able to read the result of this combined signal, but not its component parts.

Dr. Lupo said: "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 research is published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Explore further: Developing a secure, un-hackable net

More information: Cosmo Lupo et al. Parameter Estimation with Almost No Public Communication for Continuous-Variable Quantum Key Distribution, Physical Review Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.120.220505

Related Stories

Developing a secure, un-hackable net

January 11, 2018

A method of securely communicating between multiple quantum devices has been developed by a UCL-led team of scientists, bringing forward the reality of a large-scale, un- hackable quantum network.

'Two-way signaling' possible with a single quantum particle

February 26, 2018

Classically, information travels in one direction only, from sender to receiver. In a new paper, however, physicists Flavio Del Santo at the University of Vienna and Borivoje Dakić at the Austrian Academy of Sciences have ...

Reviving Einstein's spooky action at a distance

March 18, 2014

Physicists at The University of Queensland and the Australian National University (ANU) have demonstrated a software-based quantum amplifier which has the potential to expand the use of ultra-secure quantum cryptographic ...

Trust is good, quantum trickery is better

February 1, 2018

An international team of scientists has proven, for the first time, the security of so-called device-independent quantum cryptography in a regime that is attainable with state-of-the-art quantum technology, thus paving the ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.

ATLAS experiment observes light scattering off light

March 20, 2019

Light-by-light scattering is a very rare phenomenon in which two photons interact, producing another pair of photons. This process was among the earliest predictions of quantum electrodynamics (QED), the quantum theory of ...

How heavy elements come about in the universe

March 19, 2019

Heavy elements are produced during stellar explosion or on the surfaces of neutron stars through the capture of hydrogen nuclei (protons). This occurs at extremely high temperatures, but at relatively low energies. An international ...

0 comments

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.