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Teleporting a photon leads researchers to quantum security

Sharon Gaudin | Sept. 22, 2016
Canadian researchers go the distance - 3.5 miles, in this case

quantum

Come on, admit it. You've always wanted to have Scotty beam you up to the USS Enterprise.

But it's unlikely that you will be teleported anywhere in this lifetime… unless you're a photon.

And that could mean more secure communications in the foreseeable future.

A group of physicists announced this week that they have successfully teleported a photon, which is a particle of light, over the span of just more than 3.5 miles in a straight length of fiber optic cable.

The effort, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, sets a world record for distance in quantum teleportation.

"Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect," said Wolfgang Tittel, in a statement. Tittel is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Calgary, where the research was done.

The teleportation demonstration was conducted in the City of Calgary, using its fiber optic cable infrastructure.

Tittel said he's hopeful that we’re only a little more than 10 years away from using quantum teleportation for online communications.

And that will be a very good thing for people interested in keeping their messages secure.

"What we need for secure communications over any channel is encryption," Tittel told Computerworld in an interview. "The way this is done today is based on mathematical algorithms. We believe that for a computer it takes thousands of years to decrypt this, but a quantum computer would be able to decrypt these things much more rapidly -- like in seconds instead of thousands of years."

That means when quantum computers actually hit the market, which Tittel predicts will be in 10 to 20 years, our encrypted transmissions might not be so secure.

That's where quantum teleportation comes in.

With this technology, computers could imprint information or an encryption key on a photon, much like we print letters on paper, and then teleport it to the recipient.

The security piece: If someone tries to eavesdrop on that photon while it's being transmitted, the information on it automatically changes -- for both the eavesdropper and the intended recipient.

"It's a fundamental quantum law that we don’t have in the traditional world of physics -- the no-copying theory," said Tittel. "In the quantum world, perfect copying is not possible. It means if you receive photons from me and you see the code keys have been changed, you can conclude that someone tried to steal information. If you see the key hasn’t been changed, then nobody has tampered with the transmission."

This technology already exists today in a limited fashion.

 

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