It’s only a matter of time until quantum computers become mainstream; and when that happens, conventional encryption methods, which so many standard communication tools use online, will be broken.
Now a team of scientists have developed a method wherein users will be able to communicate safely and securely between devices that operate based on quantum laws of physics. In short, if their research is to be believed, they have successfully unlocked the secret to quantum communications.
According to a report on a new study conducted by a group of scientists from the University College London (UCL), it is now possible to perform quantum communications with the use of quantum devices that are securely linked to each other through a large-scale, “unhackable” quantum network. This is great news for privacy advocates who have been warning about the possible dangers to communication caused by the advent of quantum computers.
Dr. Ciaran Lee, a professor of physics and astronomy at UCL, says the world desperately needs quantum communications to work in order to avoid the many pitfalls that quantum computers will inevitably bring.
“We’re in a technology arms race of sorts. When quantum computers are fully developed, they will break much of today’s encryption whose security is only based on mathematical assumptions,” Lee explained. “To pre-emptively solve this, we are working on new ways of communicating through large networks that don’t rely on assumptions, but instead use the quantum laws of physics to ensure security, which would need to be broken to hack the encryption.”
Large-scale research into quantum technology is now underway thanks to funding from the European Union (EU) and the U.K. to the tune of one billion Euros and 270 million British Pounds, respectively. As far as quantum communication is concerned, the goal is to create a fully-operational large-scale quantum network that is actively working between cities and can be used with any certified quantum device.
According to Dr. Matty Hoban from the University of Oxford, it’s possible to use their newly developed quantum communications method more easily than one might first expect. “Our approach works for a general network where you don’t need to trust the manufacturer of the device or network for secrecy to be guaranteed,” Hoban said. “Our method works by using the network’s structure to limit what an eavesdropper can learn.”
In order to develop their new method, the research team combined two main things: Machine learning and causal inference. After combining these two, they were able to come up with what they insist is an unhackable communications system. Their method distributes secret keys among users in a way that can’t be effectively intercepted quite easily. The reason for this is simply because of the fact that with quantum mechanics, secrecy can be quickly tested and guaranteed.
As Dr. Lee later explains, their work could likely serve as the basis for how future quantum-based devices need to be operated. “Our work can be thought of as creating the software that will run on hardware currently being built to realize the potential of quantum communications,” he said. “In future work, we’d like to work with partners in the U.K. national quantum technologies program to develop this further. We hope to trial our quantum network approach over the next few years.”
This breakthrough will surely be a boon for those who conduct business – or indeed, pleasure – in the industry of private communications. The only question now is when it will be available to the general public. And what steps, if any, need to be taken to make sure that the system doesn’t suffer from any sort of abuse or misuse by either users or the authorities.