“Unhackable” cross-contient quantum video communication a success!

Today I’d like to give my colleague Gaurav Prajapati my space on the blog to talk about a truly sci-fi experiment that’s made an impact on the security world. Using quantum mechanics to communicate across the globe in a truly secure fashion. Take it away Gaurav!

Gustav Rydmark
Gustav Rydmark IT-säkerhetsarkitekt

According to an article published in NY times in 2009 President Obama emphasized on secure communication as the major challenge of 21st century. Recently China has been a major player in aggressively pushing itself towards innovating secure means of communication through the use of Quantum cryptography and quantum mechanics. One of the strongest contending reasons for this being the speeding wave of quantum computers. Primitive cryptographic techniques may become obsolete due to the computing power of quantum computers and so there is a need to establish new secure means for future communications. 



Chinese Academy of Sciences led by physicist Jian-Wei Pan along with a team of Austrian scientists demonstrated in September 2017 long distance use of secure communication using quantum cryptography. They were successful in making a video call using the technique of quantum cryptography.  This was with the use of ‘Micius’ a satellite which China launched in the last decade. The speed of the data transfer was just sufficient to make real time key exchange at the rate of 5KB/s. The sender and the receiver of signals were only placed directly at the ends of a fiber optic cable and not the end to end within the device.


“It's a massive step from having an unhackable technique to building an unhackable implementation of it" -- Paul Ducklin, senior technologist at Sophos


Physics vs mathematics

The schools of physics and mathematics have locked horns during the last couple of years. The current cryptographic theories based on public key algorithms use the mathematical theory of significantly large computational time for factoring prime numbers. Physics on the other hand gives a new dimension to the problem with the possibility of using the natural randomness inherent in light particles.



The use of of quantum cryptography is often called unhackable due to the fact that any effort to read the data changes the alignment of photons and in turn changes the key itself. Making communication immune to third party listeners using the laws of physics make it an attractive prospect.



The strength of the security is to a large extent based on the randomness of input provided to the cryptographic algorithm. Although most of the current systems use pseudo random numbers to encrypt, photons (light particles) possess inherent random alignment that could be useful to harness true randomness.



The biggest challenge to make practical use of this theory is to reinvent the backbone of internet infrastructure. It is difficult to retain the polarized alignment of photons for keys and communication for long distance. It is difficult to implement end to end between devices.



According to one of the latest security reports endpoints are still the most useful for an attacker as compared to data being compromised on transit. Although quantum mechanics and quantum cryptography have been in discussion for few decades now, the current cryptography may not be obsolete until the advent the quantum computers and when that happens the entire internet infrastructure needs a revamp. Despite this being a somewhat distant reality, it is good to ponder over the possibilities of it. In that respect, this latest demonstration of its practicability can be a boon.

A statement by Paul Ducklin, senior technologist at Sophos in SCMagzine, UK, said "It's a massive step from having an unhackable technique to building an unhackable implementation of it". We are still in the later stages of implementation. It will be good if other countries join in to harness the power of quantum physics to secure future communication.