Quantum Physicists Are Working on ‘Unbreakable’ Cybersecurity Systems

Prof Ping Koy Lam
Professor Ping Koy Lam

A group of physicists in Australia’s capital city of Canberra are looking away from crypto-based mathematics encryption to work on encryption based on the laws of physics, or more specifically – quantum physics. This form of encryption is deemed ‘unbreakable’.

A group of physicists at the Australian National University (ANU) are hard at work with quantum cybersecurity solutions that potentially help develop ‘unbreakable encryption’.

The endeavor is borne from QuintessenceLabs, a company created in 2008 after ANU researchers discovered quantum physics to significantly improve encryption. Built out of ANU, the company has been globally recognized as a leader in quantum cybersecurity after winning the renowned Security Innovation Network (SINET) award.

Speaking to ABC News, ANU physics Professor Ping Koy Lam explained the difference between conventional math-based encryption and the quantum-based encryption that he and his group of physicists are working on. He said:

Usually, encryption technique relies on complicated mathematics to guarantee its security. What we are doing now, that is new, is we use the laws of physics to guarantee the information’s security.

Significantly, he added:

The form of encryption that we’re currently working on should be unbreakable.

He noted that the code used by the method of encryption he is developing ensures that despite the efforts of any malicious eavesdropper trying to listen in to the communications, the code will remain unbreakable.

The Quantum Technology at Use

Elaborating on the technology to CIO Australia, QuintessenceLabs is looking to leverage the laws of physics in cybersecurity applications where photons are entangled in the quantum state, with data mirroring each other over distances.

In other words, any attempt to intercept the data immediately triggers an alert when there is any form of tampering in the quantum entanglement.

A ‘one-time pad’ is made up of random numbers and generated by lasers. As an encryption technique, this one-time pad only contains once code for each number. This renders any attempt by an attacker to reuse the code obsolete, even when a malicious attempt is made to cross-reference and figure connections between the characters and messages.

Professor Lam added:

When we decide on a particular form of encryption, we always make an assumption that the adversary doesn’t have enough computational power to break it.

Now, with this new form of encryption, the information will remain secure independent of the amount of resources anyone can put into breaking it.

A Globally Encrypted Network, Secured by Quantum Physics

QuintessenceLabs is looking to develop a global network of its quantum-based cybersecurity technology for governments and companies to securely share information among each other.

“To do that, we need to transfer information just like we are doing now with fiber-optics network from one place to another through many stations. What you need to do then is guarantee that even at the stations, the information remains secure,” Professor Lam explained.

So, the technology we are working on now is called a quantum repeater. The analogy can be [that] it’s like fiber optic repeater [stations].

Professor Lam compared it to having data beamed to outer space through a quantum entanglement with satellites being the ‘repeater’ stations from where data is then disseminated to other stations.

He states the company already has clients such as Westpac, Lockheed Martin and IBM using the technology. Furthermore, he added:

If industries such as banking or even government agencies look to adopt some of this new encryption technique, that’s when we will see a real change over to encrypting to the new method.

The technology could also benefit individuals beyond corporations and governments. Activists and journalists who routinely deal with sensitive information can use the technology to secure their data.

Professor Lam sees it as a “one-time key” that is stored remotely. If the encrypted data is compromised elsewhere, it would be impossible to encrypt without the key.

“A journalist can go into a hostile environment and start recording footage and information onto this random number field databank. If they are captured, the information cannot be leaked out,” the ANU professor said.

The deciphering of the information can only be done when the journalist returns to their headquarters.

Hacked  reached out to QuintessenceLabs who weren’t available at the time of publishing.

Featured image of Quantum Mechanics from Shutterstock.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.