WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Quantum computers will be able to crack most encryption systems on the planet, but this new security system is apparently uncrackable.
The word unhackable is a strong one and recently there have been a number of research groups around the world who have claimed to have developed everything from unhackable code, uncrackable one time programs, unhackable quantum machines, and even unhackable computer chips that re-configure themselves every 50 milliseconds. And then of course there’s the advent of new unhackable quantum encryption platforms, that got hacked recently… It’s a complicated world.
As we all know nothing is unhackable so you’d have thought by now that researchers would have stopped using the word, but nonetheless we all hold out hope that one day someone somewhere will break the cycle and create something that’s truly unhackable. And now a team of researchers have created what they’re calling “an uncrackable security system,” that even ultra-powerful quantum computers, that will be able to brute force crack over 70 percent of today’s encryption systems, won’t be able to hack.
Computer scientists had feared that the dawn of quantum computing would allow even the most fiendishly-encrypted data to be easily decoded, which would causing a major headache for banks, government agencies and communications providers, and as far back as 1917, scientists had proposed that “Perfect secrecy” could be achieved if it was possible to change the key which encrypts a message each time, based on the message itself. And that’s precisely what researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Saudi Arabia, have done after they created a new type of computer chip that creates a one time only encryption key from the data being sent, scrunching it all up before sending, in a way that could never be hacked.
First the digital information is stored as light, then it’s passed through a specially engineered silicon chip containing complex nano-structures that bend and refract the light and scramble the information.
“It’s the equivalent of standing talking to someone using two paper-cups attached by string. If you scrunched up the cups when speaking it would mask the sound, but each time it would be scrunched differently so it could never be hacked. This new technique is absolutely unbreakable. People are becoming increasingly concerned about the privacy of their data so this is future-proofing their security,” said Professor Andrea di Falco who led the research.
Quantum computers represent such a leap forward in computing power because while traditional computer bits can only operate as “0” or “1,” quantum bits, or qubits, can exist in multiple states – a phenomenon known as quantum superposition, which ramps up computing power exponentially – so much so that according to Rose’s Law, which is quantum computing’s equivalent of Moore’s Law, it wouldn’t take long for quantum computers to become the most powerful types of computer in the universe.
Although the first commercial quantum are estimated to arrive around 2025 late last year Google surpassed a milestone called Quantum Supremacy that meant their quantum computer became the world’s most powerful computer – a milestone that only served to make security experts even more worried that cyber-terrorists are already storing encrypted information and waiting for the day when these machines are powerful enough to crack it.
“With the advent of more powerful and quantum computers, all current encryptions will be broken in a very short time, exposing the privacy of our present and, more importantly, past communications,” said Dr Andrea Fratalocchi, from KAUST. “For instance, an attacker can store an encrypted message that is sent today and wait for the right technology to become available to decipher the communication? Implementing massive and affordable resources of global security is a worldwide problem that this research has the potential to solve for everyone, and everywhere. If this scheme could be implemented globally, crypto-hackers will have to look for another job.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.