China has demonstrated a world first by sending data over long distances using satellites which is potentially unhackable, laying the basis for next generation encryption based on so-called “quantum cryptography.
Last August, China launched a quantum satellite into space, a move which was called a “notable advance” by the Pentagon.
Using this satellite, Chinese researchers at the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) project, were able to transmit secret messages from space to Earth at a further distance than ever before.
Dubbed Quantum Science Satellite, nicknamed Micius or Mozi (Chinese: 墨子), the satellite was designed to establish a ‘Hack-Proof’ communications system in this age of global surveillance by transmitting unbreakable encryption keys from space to the ground.
That’s why China is looking to use quantum cryptography for encryption.
QKD works by using photons — the particles which transmit light — to transfer data.
“QKD allows two distant users, who do not share a long secret key initially, to produce a common, random string of secret bits, called a secret key,” the researchers explained in a paper published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.
“Using the one-time pad encryption this key is proven to be secure … to encrypt (and decrypt) a message, which can then be transmitted over a standard communication channel.”
State news agency Xinhua called the encryption “unbreakable” and that’s mainly because of the way data is carried via the photon. A photon cannot be perfectly copied and any attempt to measure it will disturb it.
This means that a person trying to intercept the data will leave a trace.
“Any eavesdropper on the quantum channel attempting to gain information of the key will inevitably introduce disturbance to the system, and can be detected by the communicating users,” the researchers said.
The implications could be huge for cybersecurity, making businesses safer, but also making it more difficult for governments to hack into communication.
“That, for instance, can meet the demand of making an absolute safe phone call or transmitting a large amount of bank data,” Jianwei said.
The Quantum Science Satellite could become the world’s first transcontinental quantum key distribution network of its kind and China hopes to erect a global quantum cryptography-based communications network in 2030.
“Satellite-based quantum key distribution can be linked to metropolitan quantum networks where fibres are sufficient and convenient to connect numerous users within a city over 100 km,” Jianwei said.
“We can thus envision a space-ground integrated quantum network, enabling quantum cryptography- most likely the first commercial application of quantum information- useful at a global scale.”
China has largely been ambitious to realise the importance of Quantum technology that’s believed to be a new era of faster and more powerful super computers.
From past two decades, Quantum technology has been a top strategic focus in China’s 5-year economic development plan. While the U.S. invested about $200 Million a year in quantum research, China spent $101 Billion in quantum physics in 2015.