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Quantum Based Secure Communication Offers Innovation In Cyber Security

A few years and too many serious incidents later, cyber security is the Achilles’ heel in the Information Technology industry. The communication sector is aggressively looking to evolve and use smarter means to safeguard data and prevent security threats and breaches. A significant amount of R&D is being directed towards next generation models of cyber security.

The Impetus Of Next Generation Network Security

A research team from the University of Calgary has brought forth a quantum key distribution system (QKD). The group has banked on the efficiency of quantum communication and used it to create functional networks that are far more secure than the existing offerings. QKD is a new direction in creating new models of cyber secyrity and it is a worthwhile addition to the encryption security models that currently exist.

Other means of network security protection are also integrating groundbreaking detection methods. The difference between generic network protection methods and advanced solutions is that the latter category relies on a ‘customized’ approach in which the detection mechanism can warn the user beforehand in order to circumvent the threat. 

How Does Quantum Key Distribution Work?

QKD is a tad different from the ‘algorithmic" approach to cyber security and its vital functions like encryption. The fundamental flaw with even the complex algorithms is that they are eventually broken or solved.  In the traditional security systems used for communication, an ‘unbreakable encryption’ is impossible. The classical models mostly rely on solving mathematical problems, which mostly include factoring large numbers.

For instance, consider the existing RSA (Rivest Shamir Adlerman) encryption system for public security. The basis of this model is the presumed difficulty of factoring large integers. So, it can be said that this model of public key distribution is vulnerable to development in hardware and algorithms.

The word ‘quantum’ in QKD shed lights on how different it is from other encryption setups. Instead of banking on mathematical wizardry, it uses the simple principle that light carries photons. Photons are energy packets of light, and can be understood as its fundamental units. The encryption is done through a shared random secret key based on the exchange of photons between the two communicating parties.

The real catch lies in the intrusion detection method. When two parties are communicating with each other, they are sharing specific photons. When an intruder tries to ‘break’ or intervene the key, the photon pathway is affected, and the users would immediately know about the intrusion. The key is replaced instantly, and the cyber data is secured.

An Improved Protocol

Another feat that the QKD system has been successful in achieving is the ‘key’ protocol. Normally what happens is that intrusions are made via fiber optic cable without the communicating parties being aware of the process. In such circumstances, laser light is used and the key distribution system becomes insecure. QKD has devised a clever method in creating a ‘conduit’ between the two communicating parties. None of the parties have the complete information about the photon based encryption but have a partial measurement. The conduit would perform a joint measurement of the participating photons from both parties. This creates an effective photon detection system. When a threat is detected, the conduit would break the joint measurement, rendering the key secure. Secondly, the users are informed of the threat.

Another important element of the QKD system is the distance it is able to cover. Normally, a constraint in quantum based systems is that they have a shorter distance limit. However, this photon based network can travel more than 200 km, which is currently the maximum distance. This means that this system can be translated to large scale setups, including communication networks in banking and healthcare industry.

The next generation of cyber security methods is a blooming field and innovations such as QKD are definitely an intriguing and worthwhile addition to the Information Technology armory and future advances in cyber security.

Sources: Springer and Univ of Calgary

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