AusCERT 2012: Australian quantum crypto firm plots NASA test deployment

Australian quantum cryptography outfit QuintessenceLabs is in the process of putting together a test network with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories.

The company’s John Leisoboer told AusCERT delegates yesterday that the pilot network will test its capabilities over a 500 Km link from NASA Ames to the JPL in Pasadena.

The QuintessenceLabs QKD system uses two characteristics of quantum physics to operate: a random number generator that “listens” to the random noise of quantum fluctuations, and the quantum key distribution mechanism that creates a secured link.

To distribute keys, the quantum key manager encodes the random numbers into two quantum states of the photons it transmits – their amplitude and phase. The receiving end of the link reads the states of incoming photons, compares what it has received with what was sent; and by reconciling the errors caused by the loss on the link, the two ends can determine which information has not been lost, and can therefore be guaranteed not to have been eavesdropped.

While Leisoboer noted that such systems are “very lossy”, he told the conference that you gain “information theoretic security” – or, more simply, a guaranteed secure channel.

Leisoboer emphasised the importance of quantum-based security in the future of cryptography, since any computationally-based encryption assumes that its algorithms cannot be reversed, and that the algorithm will always remain immune to a brute-force attack. As quantum computers become more feasible, he noted, all encryption based on computer power will theoretically be breakable – particularly important if data is being encrypted for long-term storage.

QuintessenceLabs is currently working on several development paths: first, to build its technology into a wider range of devices; second, to continue securing test deployments; and finally, to extend its capabilities into free-space optics. Freeing the key distribution mechanism from optical fibre networks will make the system more attractive to defence applications, since it could be used for ground-to-aircraft or even ground-to-satellite applications.

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