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QinetiQ defence solutions

Quantum cryptography could stop Web hackers

Updated Fri. Jan. 26 2007 11:28 AM ET

CTV.ca News Staff

A Calgary scientist is working on a security technology that could one day make Internet hacking a concern of the past.

Dr. Wolfgang Tittel from the University of Calgary's Centre for Information Security and Cryptography is working with a team to develop secure encryption technology using quantum mechanics.

Most of today's data sent over the Internet is sent electronically. Tittel is using fibre optics to send data on light photons that can move so fast, they can teleport themselves from one place to another instantly.

The researchers are using quantum mechanics to create a new level of cryptography that will be able to tell a user whether personal information is accessed.

"What it allows us is to send a 'quantum key' in a way that we can see, after sending it, whether it has been corrupted, meaning that somebody else has information about this key," Tittel explained on Canada AM.

A hacker can't copy a quantum key without changing it. That's because the security codes are carried in bundles with a particular configuration. If these bundles are disrupted during transmission, they re-configure and the information scrambles.

"Normally, we cannot see if a key has been corrupted," Tittel explained. "We may use trusted couriers but we cannot know if the courier was indeed trustworthy; he may have looked at the key himself."

"However, if you use a quantum key, there's a fundamental law in quantum information science -- or quantum physics in general -- that we cannot copy a quantum key without changing it. And that is exactly the power that this particular type of key distribution has. It allows us to see if the key is safe, in which case we would use it, or if it's not safe, we would not use it."

The technology differs from current encryption techniques, which are capable of scrambling information only for short periods of time and have no way of showing whether a hacker copied data.

Tittel says with quantum cryptography, codes can be made absolutely unbreakable.

The technology's first use will likely be military, but it could eventually provide uncompromised online protection for everything from Internet banking to the sending medical records over the Web.

"I would say with the potential partners that we have here in Calgary, we probably need maybe four or five years in order to develop commercial systems that would allow us to send quantum protected key over distances of let's say 100 kilometres," Tittel says. 

For longer distances, "we would use a different technology which would mean that we have to teleport the information about the key from one end of Canada to the other end... But these are technologies are a little bit further away. They have to be demonstrated in laboratory."


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