Encrypting telecom networks is an expensive venture but a recent study reveals that communication infrastructures can now be secured at an affordable price by using quantum cryptography, eliminating the need of dedicated fiber links.
A new research led by the European research lab of Toshiba in Britain and engineers from Cambridge engineers shows an unhackable security system that can be used for almost everything ranging from keeping safe health records to credit card transactions.
Basically, quantum cryptography uses the rules of quantum theory in generating codes that cannot be cracked. The technology encrypt data in a manner that also shows if the code has been tampered with or eavesdropped.
Some military organizations and governments are believed to be using the technology at this time, basing on the technology being used by firms like the United States MagiQ and Swiss ID Quantique.
Up until now the quantum keys being used to encode and decode information needs to be sent on single photons, a light particle, in a dedicated optical fiber outside the usual set of fibers that carry the data itself.
Andrew Shields from Toshiba Research in Cambridge said: “The requirement of separate fibers has greatly restricted the applications of quantum cryptography in the past, as unused fibers are not always available for sending the single photons, and even when they are, can be prohibitively expensive. Now we have shown that the single photon and data signals can be sent using different wavelengths on the same fiber.”
The research led by Toshiba is published in the journal Physical Review X. While a truly promising discovery, it still needs a high-end detector that can pick up the encryption key in a time span of 100 millionths of a micro-second, at the expected time of arrival of the single photons.
However, compared to high cost of dedicated fiber line, the advanced detector needed can filter out the “noise” in the fiber generated by the data and is much more cost effective.
Previous testing in the use of quantum cryptography on fiber lines being used for carrying data itself had been limited to over short distances, low capacity rates, or with data moving in one direction only.
The most recent study by Toshiba can do the technique over 50 kilometers and with data running in both direction. The encryption capacity is 50,000 times the previous record on the same distance.
Zhiliang Yuan, a member of the team which developed the technology revealed to Reuters that further field tests are needed. He forecast that it will become available commercially in the next few years.