A team of researchers has, for the first time, hacked into a network protected by quantum encryption.
Quantum cryptography uses the laws of quantum mechanics to encode data securely. Most researchers consider such quantum networks to be nearly 100% uncrackable. But a group from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge was able to 'listen in' using a sort of quantum-mechanical wiretap. The trick allowed them to tease out about half of the data, in a way that couldn't be detected by those transmitting or receiving the message.
The group admits that their hack isn't yet capable of eavesdropping on a real network.
But they expect that one day it will be able to do so, if quantum encryption isn't adequately adapted to stop such hackers from succeeding.
Most quantum networks send secret data in the polarization of photons. The sender encodes each photon's polarization such that the receiver who tries to measure it will only get the right information out about half of the time. When this information does come through, the duo can agree to use that particular bit of data as a key to encode and decode a message.
The system ensures secrecy because anyone intercepting a transmitted photon will disrupt its polarization, and affect the rate at which the receiver can correctly measure it. So the sender and receiver can detect the eavesdropper by noticing a spike in the transmission error rate. They can then stop communicating or try again on a different network.