Quantum Mechanics: The Answer to Cybersecurity?

The discovery that the NSA is collecting our online data has led some to say there’s no such thing as privacy any more. Many credit card companies, government agencies, banks and others have been hacked: How “secure” and “protected” is anything stored online or digitally?

Scientists are seeking to devise new technologies to protect data securely. A team from the Australian National University and Quintessence Labs is using quantum mechanics to create what could be “the most powerful and impenetrable security method ever conceived.”

Quantum cryptography could prevent hacking because such a security system relying on quantum mechanics could destroy or change messages at the same time as hackers are trying to break into them, as ABC says. Hackers can now intercept messages and data or destroy or alter these without the sender knowing. In quantum cryptography, the very act of hacking would destroy the data at that very moment.

At least, that’s how quantum cryptography would work in theory. The challenge is to build a computer that could perform such operations. Scientists at Australia’s University of New South Wales have been working on developing a silicon chip with quantum memory; this involves putting a single phosphorous atom onto a regular silicon chip. Through this process, scientists say that they have been able to read and write information on the nucleus of a single atom.

While conventional silicon chips control electronic current, quantum chips “manipulate particles of light, photons,” to perform what could be vast quantities of calculations, even trillions of equations at a time. Quantum chips can therefore store and process a vast amount of information. As ABC comments, ”to give an idea of scale, a computer with 300 quantum bits is thought to be able to contain a level of classical information equivalent to all the elementary particles of the universe.” A computer with such processing power could “decrypt today’s most elaborate coding with ease.”

Quantum mechanics are already being used to create secure communication via quantum key distribution. In this, two separate parties  ”produce a shared random secret key known only to them”; this key can be used to both encrypt and decrypt messages.

The use of quantum computers to break widely-used security systems such as the scientists in Australia are working on remains hypothetical for now. As what some are calling “Prism Data-Gate” has shown, there is a huge need for new and better types of online security, especially in view of our increasing reliance on “the cloud” to store all types of personal and other data.

While civil liberties advocatespoliticians and technology companies are sorting through how extensive the NSA’s surveillance of users’ data has been, the average user of the Internet is simply trying to figure out how much about themselves to post and store online. Quantum crytography suggests there are ways to make the online communications and interactions more secure. But what about when hackers figure out how to hack these?

 

Photo from Thinkstock

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