A Chinese team has managed to achieve success in the satellite transmission of a “secret” encryption key between two ground situations that were located approximately 700 miles apart.
Based on the concept of quantum entanglement, this achievement defines the first truly unbreakable link between a satellite and its terrestrial controllers. This raises the possibility of a theoretical “100%” secure global communications network.
Background: The Concept Of Quantum Computing In A Nutshell
- All computers are dependent on the ability to store and manipulate information.
- Today’s computers manipulate individual bits that are primarily binary switches: they can either be in the one position (1) or the off position (0).
- Quantum computers manipulate data via qubits instead of bits. Qubits can be both on and off at the same time or they may remain somewhere in the spectrum between the two states.
- A standard computer explores each option in turn until the right one is discovered when instructed to locate the correct solution from a series of alternatives. Conversely, quantum computers are able to consider every option at once.
- Quantum Computing (when compared to the most powerful supercomputers of today) opens up the possibility of massively enhanced problem-solving capabilities, much faster processing, and the ability to analyze uncertainty.
- Quantum Computing enables the rapid acceleration of artificial intelligence development. It allows developers to simulate uncertain and complex scenarios. Possible uses include predicting the behavior of markets and people, and a better understanding of disease pathology.
The Solution: Quantum Key Distribution
It is worthwhile to note here that quantum computing poses a big threat to encryption but quantum physics can possibly provide an answer.
- Quantum key distribution (QKD) is primarily based on quantum entanglement, a particle physics principle. Under this principle, the properties of a pair of twinned light particles (photons) remain identical to each other, irrespective of how far apart they are.
- If one of those entangled particles is used by an individual to create an encryption key, only that individual with the other particle can decode them.
- Any attempt to intercept or interfere with the quantum key will inhibit that key from working.
- Chinese quantum physicist Pan Jianwei has been dedicatedly working on the distribution of quantum keys through satellites. China built Micius, which is a satellite designed specifically for quantum communications research.
The Latest Development
Micius was used in 2017 to set up a quantum key link between ground stations in Beijing and Vienna. However, Micius had to actually generate and distribute the encryption keys in that case.
In 2020, Micius was deployed to send a secret key between two ground stations at Urumqi and Delingha that were separated by around 700 miles. Micius merely acted as a blind transmitter with absolutely no information about the key.
The transmission’s efficiency surged by fourfold compared to experiments of the past. Amazingly, the transmission’s error rate was such that any attempt to eavesdrop on the message would have been isolated from general noise and flagged up.
What It Means?
The time is still far when existing encryption methods would become redundant. That said, the research demonstrates that it is now technically feasible to distribute a quantum key between two stations through a satellite (without it having any information about the key). All in all, it is a theoretical “100%” point-to-point secure transmission and the possibility of successful interception can be ruled out.
Quite possibly, this out-of-the-box method of key transmission may very soon become the basis of an ‘unhackable internet’.