In May, Chinese scientists created an entangled pair of tiny energy particles, hooked each one to a readable output similar to an electric telegraph, separated them 16 kilometers, and transmitted information instantaneously from one machine to the other. Why is this scary? Because it’s the final frontier in secure communications and computation and the Chinese are catching up to us.
A signal transmitted via “quantum entanglement” is impossible to monitor via conventional signals intelligence, because there is no signal. Nothing passes from one secure terminal to another, the information simply jumps from one to the next. Imagine military information networks with absolute, airtight security guaranteed by the laws of physics. When government customers talk about building in data security from the ground up, this is what they’re talking about.
The system works because of a strange quirk of physics that functions as a “work-around” for the theory of relativity, that pesky little detail that normally prevents instantaneous transmission of even the tiniest particles.
Basically, if you create two minuscule energy particles at the same time, “spinning” in opposite directions, they become “entangled” and if you apply a charge to one, the other becomes charged as well, regardless of how far apart they are, in defiance of pretty much every other law of physics.
If that sounds strange and confusing, don’t worry about it. Einstein himself wasn’t quite sure what to make of this bizarre phenomenon, that he dubbed “spooky action at a distance,” and attributed it to “hidden variables” beyond human comprehension.
Also, if conventional computers become faster and faster at the same breakneck pace they’ve been keeping up since 1968, eventually we’re going to hit a brick wall called the theory of relativity. Even though computers have come a long way from vacuum tubes, they still use transistor switches as the most basic unit of computation, which means they’re limited by the physical properties of electrons. Quantum entanglement provides a theoretical work-around, providing infinitely scalable computing speed.
Quantum communication has been a reality since 2004, when the mayor of Vienna deposited a massive check at an Austrian bank headquarters via a pair of entangled photons. The system relied on fiber optic cables to link the pair, however, while the Chinese experiment in May was over free airspace.
The only American firm that markets a quantum security product is Magiq Technologies, and it isn’t technically quantum communications, just quantum key distribution. The problem with quantum communications is that each entangled pair, which is unstable and expensive, has about the same amount of bandwidth space as a telegraph line. Even using multiple entangled pairs, we’re talking about bits per second, not megabits per second, meaning that quantum Internet isn’t immediately feasible, but smaller data packets can be transmitted with absolute security.
Their QPN 8505 is compatible with PKI encryption and can use any commercial fiber optic line to transmit data with absolute security over 100 km. From the product’s data sheet, “MagiQ QPN™ leverages the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to exchange encryption keys with absolute security — Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).”
It can also move data with greater security than conventional processes up to 140 km, but it becomes technically possible for an adversary to catch a glimpse of encrypted data. However, because of the system’s properties, a customer would be aware of the breach instantaneously and either change encryption protocols or shut down transmission.
So, even if total data security might seem far-fetched now, remember that the Internet was still a DARPA research project 35 years ago. Staying ahead of the curve is essential in the defense industry, and since the Chinese have raised the bar by transmitting data 16 kilometers instantaneously without a wire, it will only be a matter of time before military and intelligence community customers start asking about quantum communications.