Thousands of security hacks happen around the world each day. In the United States alone, some 4,000 ransomware attacks compromise data and leave people susceptible to further data breaches. However, physicists now think quantum communication could be the solution to making unhackable networks.
A team from the University of Chicago are exploring the possibilities of quantum computing on general communication, computers, and national security. They want to create a quantum network stretching between the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory -- one of the longest connections in the world to test quantum physics.
The network would "teleport" information about particles across the 30-mile distance. Security issues cost the US economy alone between $57 billion at $109 billion in 2016. Those numbers are expected to go up as more financial information becomes available online.
The experiment involves 70 quantum physicists and engineers from around the world. The researchers hope it will be a once-in-a-lifetime project.
“This is the first time anyone has even planned to carry out a quantum network like this: a permanent, functioning quantum teleportation network at long distances in the United States,” said Fermilab Deputy Director and Chief Research Officer Joe Lykken. “We want to demonstrate the enabling quantum technology. And we want to capitalize on our expertise to pave the way for others to create their own networks."
Lykken explained this could shape the future of quantum communications forever. "Decades ago, building something like this would have been just a dream. But we’re doing it now, and soon others will be able to.”
Using the strangeness of quantum physics
The new communications network tapped into the 'weird' parts of quantum mechanics -- particularly altered states. The researchers noted that quantum systems could be unhackable because if someone tried to look at a transmission, the transmission itself would be disturbed.
Not only would it ruin the information being sent, it would also alert the recipients and the senders of that information of a hack. The team explained it works through entangling particles; what happens to one happens to the other even if they're miles apart.
Thus, if the researchers share an entangled pair between two places, the quantum information can get across despite not having a physical connection. This is why the researchers explained it as "teleporting" the data.
“Performing information teleportation across real-world distances many miles apart allows us to identify practical problems involved in operating a quantum network: What are the technological challenges, how secure is the communication and what are the limits to transporting information in this manner?” Awschalom said.
Next steps for the quantum project
If this project proves successful, the researchers want to expand the idea with more corporate partnerships. For example, Fermilab's Maria Spiropulu is currently building a quantum network with AT&T and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Quantum testbeds of similar scale exist around the world. But most of them rely on entangled photons—particles of light—to teleport information. Our testbed is unique in that, for the first time, we push towards an all solid-state architecture where trapped quantum particles in solids are used as information carriers,” said Tian Zhong, assistant professor of molecular engineering at the University of Chicago. Zhong is also a scientist at Argonne, and serves as a co-principal investigator of the project.
Next month, researchers from the three institutions will gather to talk about their discoveries and progress at the Chicago Quantum Summit -- a program dedicated to the future of quantum computing.
"Networking quantum devices is important for scaling quantum computation and architecting hybrid communication systems towards a quantum-enhanced internet,” Spiropulu said. “It will take deliberate collaboration between the government research laboratories, academia, industry and foundations to get there. The Chicago Quantum Exchange program will catalyze progress in all these areas."