Unbreakable encryption got a step closer today with the announcement of a major breakthrough in physics. Scientists have proven that quantum mechanics really is as spooky as they thought with the aid of a landmark experiment which opens the door for truly secure communications.
Ultra Secure Communications
Quantum mechanics is the theory of the universe at very small scales and, until now, physicists have never quite been sure whether the odd behavior of subatomic particles predicted by their equations is real or whether the theory is somehow flawed. By ensnaring two electrons separated by a distance of around a mile in a state of what is known as quantum entanglement, researchers have proven that quantum mechanics really is as strange as they thought. The experiment, conducted at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, has also solved one of the major obstacles to the development of quantum encryption: the use of quantum behavior to send ultra-secure communications.
The great physicist Albert Einstein was never happy with the idea of ‘spooky action at a distance’ predicted by quantum theory. This allows two particles bound in quantum entanglement to interact instantaneously even if they are on opposite sides of the universe and in total contravention of Einstein’s own theory of relativity. But the Delft experiment has proven that this really can happen and in doing so has demonstrated ‘a proof of principle for secure communications’, according to lead researcher Ronald Hanson.
Closing the Loopholes
The trouble with quantum encryption, according to Hanson, is that it is theoretically possible for an eavesdropper to fool you into thinking that your message is secure when, in reality, it is not and they can see it.
The solution to this problem emerged as a direct result of the experimental design. In order to show that quantum mechanics is weird, the researchers had to close down two loopholes that had tripped up previous experiments. Scientists had been able to close one or the other in the past but not both at the same time. Until now.
Solving the Puzzle
Plugging these loopholes required Hanson and colleagues to show that they had two particles in separate locations that were in quantum entanglement and also that they were able to detect all the particles involved in the experiment. People wishing to use secure quantum communications also need to be sure of the same thing. ‘Security relies on entanglement, and that means closing the loopholes,’ Hanson explained.
If Hanson is right and quantum encryption is possible then Edward Snowden may turn out to be the least of the US National Security Agency’s problems.