U of C researchers study quantum leap in security

Advanced cryptography holds promise


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Melissa Churly, Calgary Herald

Published: Friday, January 26, 2007

A new research group at the University of Calgary is using quantum cryptography to make electronic communications more secure.

For average citizens, it would mean no more worries about stolen banking information or compromised medical records.

Quantum cryptography allows users to safely send information to others. The information is encrypted with a string of random codes that are used as a secret key. Information is shared over fibre-optic lines or through satellite communications.

The U of C research group is headed by Wolfgang Tittel, who was recruited from the University of Geneva. Tittel is the first scientist in the world to apply quantum information techniques to real world applications.

According to Tittel, quantum technology is like a suitcase with a special lock. If someone tries to pick the lock, the suitcase blows up.

With this technology, if someone tries to intercept the information, it changes configuration, immediately scrambling the data being transmitted, like an explosion. Information breaches will become a thing of the past, Tittel said.

"Communication security is so important that we want it to be infinitely secure," he said.

The research is still in the early stages, since sending information this way is difficult over long distances and expensive.

Tittel and his team are testing the technology on a dedicated fibre-optic line between the university and a laboratory at SAIT.

Tittel said 50 kilometres is the longest distance information has been sent through this method.

"It will be reliable in five years, feasible in seven to eight years, and in 10 to 15 years it could be used in banking or health care," said Barry Sanders, a quantum science professor at the U of C.

Sanders said he thinks the new lab and research will help enhance Calgary's reputation.

"It will bring prestige and put us at the top of the league," he said. "We are a leader in developing new technologies."

© The Calgary Herald 2007

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