Race Is On to Protect Data From Next Leap in Computers. And China Has the Lead.
This device could break the encryption that protects digital information, putting at risk everything from the billions of dollars spent on e-commerce to national secrets stored in government databases.
An answer? Encryption that relies on the same concepts from the world of physics. Just as some scientists are working on quantum computers, others are working on quantum security techniques that could thwart the code-breaking abilities of these machines of the future.
It is a race with national security implications, and while building quantum computers is still anyone’s game, China has a clear lead in quantum encryption. As it has with other cutting-edge technologies, like artificial intelligence, the Chinese government has made different kinds of quantum research a priority.
Quantum computing is based on quantum mechanics, the science that explains the strange behavior exhibited by extremely small particles of matter.
With traditional computers, transistors store “bits” of information, and each bit is either a 1 or a 0. Those are the fundamental slices of data that tell a computer what to do.
When some types of matter are extremely small or extremely cold, they behave differently. That difference allows a quantum bit, or qubit, to store a combination of 1 and 0. Two qubits can hold four values at once. As the number of qubits grows, a quantum computer becomes exponentially more powerful.
Like quantum computing, quantum encryption relies on the nonintuitive behavior of very small objects. The codes that keep data secret are sent by photons, the tiniest particle of light. With the right equipment it is easy to tell if they have been tampered with, not unlike the seal on an aspirin bottle. If carried out properly, the technique could be unbreakable.
There is no guarantee that a viable quantum encryption network could be built over long distances. But if it does happen, China’s willingness to experiment and put government, academic and commercial resources behind the effort could have a big payoff.
Posted on December 4, 2018
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