A Swiss company has announced the commercial availability of what it says are the first IT products to exploit quantum effects rather than conventional physics to achieve their goals.
Geneva-based id Quantique SA is focusing on the field of cryptography with a quantum random number generator (RNG) and a quantum key distribution (QKD) system, the company has announced.
Standard cryptography has developed to the stage where encrypted messages are extremely difficult to crack, requiring enormous amounts of computing power and time in a brute-force approach to finding the keys to unlock a message.
Mathematicians over the last 20 years have shown that quantum cryptography is completely unbreakable; because of the bizarre characteristics of quantum interactions, there is no logical way to crack a quantum-encrypted message.
The company's main product is a QKD system, which enables remote parties to exchange a private cryptographic key in absolute secrecy, even if other parties are trying to eavesdrop, the company said. The key is exchanged in the form of a sequence of single photons in an optical fibre. Because of the quantum properties of the photons, eavesdropping inevitably perturbs the communication and so is immediately detected, the company said.
The prototype commercial system consists of two PC-sized boxes at either end of a fibre-optic cable, containing lasers for generating the photons, detectors and cooling devices. It has been successfully tested over a 67-kilometre fibre-optic link between Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, with a net key distribution rate over that distance of 60Kbps. The system can be deployed over existing fibre-optic cables and the distribution rate rises to over 1000Kbps over shorter distances, id Quantique said.
The id Quantique communication system can be connected to a PC through the USB port, The quantum random number generator can be used replace standard computer RNGs which are not truly random but are dependent on factors such as the system clock and thus to some extent predictable. The quantum RNG exploits a truly random process -- the reflection or the transmission of a single photon when it hits a semi-transparent mirror, id Quantique said. Random numbers are used as seeds for generating cryptographic messages.
Quantum-based computing has the potential to revolutionise many areas of IT, once the extremely difficult task of harnessing quantum effects on a large scale is overcome.
One touted application for quantum computing is in breaking conventional cryptographic systems. Instead of performing a long series of tests designed to unlock a 128-bit key, researchers believe a quantum system could theoretically carry out all the necessary tests in parallel, unlocking the key instantly.