Quantum Encryption: Is This New Technology Unhackable?
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Is Quantum Encryption Really Unhackable?

To understand quantum encryption, first let us just take five minutes to realize, what cryptography or encryption is? And what makes quantum encryption “Un-hackable”?

To start, the basic idea of cryptography is as below:

Ali sends a message to Ahmad stating, “meet me at the shop.”

Now, Ali is a little conscious about the privacy of this meeting. So he further wants to make sure no one other than Ahmad gets his message. What should he do it ensure the security of this piece of information?

For instance, he could go and speak directly into his ear, in a separate room, in complete privacy, that evidently has no one else. But what if Ahmad lives very far away from Ali, let’s just assume a hundred miles away or more, then what should Ali do?

Here Ali decides to send the message using “encryption” method via internet let’s just say via Facebook messenger. Here encryption means to transform the original message “meet me at the shop” to a new form, for example, converting the message into numbers or to some other code languages.

What can Ali possibly do?

Possibly he would convert the entire text message into ASCII code, in which case the secret message will appear as written below

077 101 101 116 032 109 101 032 097 116 032 116 104 101 032 115 104 111 112

In this pattern, he could inform Ahmad whatever the message he shall receive, in this case, he will only have to reverse the process, i.e., to convert the ASCII code back to the text and thus receiving the original message.

Unluckily, this isn’t a safe method to transmit data or messages as anyone could decrypt it. So it turns out that a third person (let’s call him Bob) could decrypt the original message and read it. In this case, the message would be vulnerable to the hackers or government agencies.

Quantum Encryption: The Science Behind Un-hackable Quantum Communication



Fortunately, cryptographers over the many centuries have developed numerous methods to send potentially secret data, using mathematical algorithms and cryptographic techniques. In the past, men have used light and different sounds to communicate and to send instant messages to faraway places. E.g., by creating a massive fire or by loudly drumming the drums.

Thankfully, in the recent years, cryptographers developed a prevalent method called RSA. It is the mathematical algorithm widely used to send sensitive data, especially when transmitted over a potentially insecure network like the internet. As a matter of fact, it is the algorithm which rules over the security of your messages and emails.

Fact: When something like emails or social media accounts get hacked, it is not the cryptogram that is compromised. In reality, it is the sensitive information that gets revealed or leaked through other methods like phishing, keylogger methods, etc. To crack a 1024-bit RSA code, it will take, literally, “infinite time.”

So, the question arises that why do these encryption methods still work and whereas ASCII code can’t? It is actually like that because they designed in such that even with the most powerful computer or super calculation machines in hands, it will take an infinite time of your life to “break” the encryption that Ali has worked on his message. Hence making it impossible to break the encryption.

Shor’s Algorithm

That was satisfying until 1994, when Prof. Peter Williston Shor, an American professor of applied mathematics at MIT, formed what is nowadays the “Shor’s Factoring Algorithm”. As this a “quantum algorithm”, so it can work only one a quantum computer. This algorithm can break the RSA key in polynomial time (meaning finite time) to trespass the security of the data. With this innovation, the RSA key system became vulnerable to hackers. So, the cryptographers started a new race to find a newer “un-hackable” cryptographic method.

And so quantum encryption came to rescue us, all the way from China. That was the first time quantum laws of Physics were used to develop the quantum encryption along with the traditional mathematical algorithms. Scientists have discovered Quantum key distribution schemes like the BB84 protocol that is unarguably more secure.

What Makes Quantum Encryption So “Secure”?

To understand it, let’s recall are 10th-grade physics which says that quantum states are very “delicate”, in a sense that if you “interfere or interact” with them, you profoundly disturb them. For example, in fission and fusion reactions.

Now back to story, so if Bob tries to interact with quantum state and acts to steal the key, he will necessarily end up disturbing the quantum state, which will become merely detectable by both Ali and Ahmad at the same time.

That means that the key that you will generate will only be between Ali and Ahmad. And once the key is secure, you message/data is definitely “un-hackable”! The quantum phenomenon that takes place during this encryption is called “No cloning theorem” which says that no one can clone an “arbitrary” quantum state. And this also guarantees the security of the key, to an impossible extent till now.

Applications



  • Recently, the SOCRATES microsatellite securely transmitted data to a ground station (receiver) on Earth using the process called Quantum Key Distribution. It was the first time when QKD technique was used between space and Earth. Scientists sent to forth using quantum encryption and a satellite which uses photons to transmit data.
  • A team of researchers Netherland says that they are very close to making un-hackable credit cards using quantum encryption.
  • Ultra-Secure Voting: Since 2007, Switzerland uses quantum cryptography to conduct online voting in all formats of elections
  • In 2015, experts speculated that American power grid was more vulnerable to cyber-attacks. And also sometimes under continuous attack from cyber enemies. Lately, a small encryption device called the QKD created somehow a more secure power distribution system.

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