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There are plenty of ways that companies and scientists are attempting to integrate the weird effects of quantum mechanics into everyday technology. One potential use is a whole new way of encrypting data, such that the encryption key can’t be broken by any conventional method.
Toshiba will use the laws of quantum mechanics to send secure messages using present-day technology. Its new method could set up quantum-secure communications links over fibers up to 550 kilometers long.
The researchers propose that the two users many miles apart, “Alice” and “Bob,” could each bestow an electric field with a certain quantum state and send it over a fiber optic cable to a central, insecure location, where the two fields would join and undergo quantum interference. Each user would then receive back the result of a measurement of the single photon that resulted from the interference. This information would be meaningless to an observer but could serve as Alice and Bob’s unhackable quantum key to decrypt their messages.
The method, published in Nature, is just theoretical for now. The researchers hope to demonstrate it experimentally in the next year then make a prototype in around two years time. Toshiba has been working on distributing quantum keys with existing methods as well.
Hoi-Kwong Lo, a professor at the University of Toronto, told gizmodo.com that “the work is stunning,” however, it’s unclear whether or not the method could overcome the most general kinds of cyber attacks with the capabilities of quantum mechanics at their disposal.
Quantum key distribution could one day be useful for sharing secure things like genetic data or government data, and then maybe have more general applications in the future. It’s still far off, but lots of scientists and companies are hoping to one day see quantum-secure networks spanning countries and even the world.