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Researchers Break “Unbreakable” Quantum Cryptography

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

A group of Swedish researchers have managed to achieve the impossible! Researchers working at Stockholm University and Linköping University have conclusively proven that quantum cryptography is not as secure as it was previously thought and it is totally possible to intercept and decode data secured with the technique. The news is especially disappointing because quantum cryptography was considered to be virtually unbreakable and is even considered as the next bastion of data security by many security experts.

Unlike traditional methods of encryption, quantum cryptography relies on the laws of physics to carry out cryptographic tasks. The methods used in it rely on mechanical properties of matter instead of mathematical calculations to perform cryptography. Quantum cryptography is considered unbreakable because in order to decipher data secured with such techniques, you would need to break the laws of physics.

Quantum cryptography came into being in 1984 when a couple of researchers proposed a way of distributing keys by using the principles mentioned in quantum mechanics. The quantum key distribution (QKD) method relies on minute particles like photons (which form the backbone of all matter) for key exchange and follows the uncertainty principle which says that it is impossible to learn everything about a particle without altering its state. This also means that in order to decode the information contained in the key, the eavesdropper would need to destroy a little bit of information itself. Additionally, QED also relies on classical information theory which says that the key must be common and secret at the same time. It is worth pointing out here that no actual encryption happens when data is secured with this method. Unfortunately, security companies have not been able to put these principles into practice which means quantum cryptography has still not found its way into today’s security products.

While cryptography based on quantum mechanics sounds unbreakable in theory, Swedish researchers have discovered a new loophole in energy-time entanglement method which is used by many quantum cryptography applications for key exchange. The loophole makes it possible to intercept data secured with quantum key distribution without getting detected. The researchers have published a detailed article regarding the flaw on ScienceMag website which claims that the loophole was first discovered through theoretical calculations and later on confirmed in the lab with actual test results.

The team working on the issue discovered that if the photons used for quantum key distribution were replaced by a traditional light source, it becomes possible for a middleman to identify the key used in the data exchange. And once the key used to secure information is cracked, it also becomes possible for the eavesdropper to read the actual message while avoiding detection. On the positive side, researchers have said that it is possible to avoid such loopholes by altering the design of the machine or by using technical solutions.

The news goes on to show just how difficult it is to achieve 100% data security. Since quantum cryptography based security applications are still not available in the market, there is no security fallout from the discovery. However, scientists should keep on identifying such glitches so that when the technology is available to the masses, it can deliver on its promises.

April 28, 2016

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