A new quantum encryption breakthrough could lead to hacker-proof communication

The previous secure quantum communications record was smashed by more than nearly 50 miles.
Chris Young

Scientists from Beijing set a new quantum secure direct communication (QSDC) world record of 102.2 km (64 miles), a massive leap over the previous record of 18 km (11 miles), according to The Eurasian Times.

The research could eventually lead to a massive quantum communications network that would be virtually hacker-proof due to the nature of the technology.

The scientists, who published their findings in a paper in Nature, demonstrated transmission speeds of 0.54 bits per second, much slower than communications using classical computing devices. Still, this was fast enough for phone call and text message encryption over a distance of 30 km (19 miles).

The same team set the previous record, and they developed a "novel design of physical system with a new protocol" to break that record and greatly improve upon their previous design by removing the "complicated active compensation subsystem". This enabled "an ultra-low quantum bit error rate (QBER) and long-term stability against environmental noises." 

According to the researchers, their experiment shows that "intercity quantum secure direct communication through the fiber is feasible with present-day technology". They believe that parts of today's internet could be replaced with quantum channels, preventing hackers from eavesdropping on communications. 

Developing a hacker-proof communications network

QSDC uses a quirk of quantum physics called entanglement to secure communications networks. Entangled particles are inextricably linked, meaning that if you change the property of one, you immediately change the property of the other. This means that any attempt at hacking is immediately detectable.

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In February, a team of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago maintained a quantum state for more than five seconds, a new record for the field of quantum science. They also believe their research will allow for more complex quantum calculations and could eventually enable a "distributed quantum internet" that would vastly improve communications security.

We're still some way off from seeing the promise of quantum computers delivered in a commercial setting, but quantum internet infrastructure may be closer to becoming a reality. It's a development that could change the way organizations and individuals communicate online, allowing them to do so with much greater security — as they will immediately know if their communications have been tampered with.

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