There may soon come a time when nearly uncrackable secret information can be beamed straight to your smartphone. No, we're not talking about handsets loaded with GPG keys or two-factor authentication apps, but the waaaaaay far out ideas behind quantum cryptography, the incredibly secure communication technology capable of locking down messages far more tightly than Lavabit ever could.
After years of being relegated to optics labs alone, researchers at the University of Bristol say they have developed a way to send quantum cryptographic information to handheld devices from a central server.
Currently, quantum cryptography is a major pain. To use it, two people needed perfectly aligned computers capable of controlling and modifying individual light particles (photons), according to MIT Technology Review. Similar to the way conventional crypto works now, the light particles transmit a key that the other side has to decrypt. If the two machines are poorly aligned or the light particles are significantly changed as they are sent between each party, the cryptography won't work.
The team at the University of Bristol, however, says quantum cryptography doesn't have to be that difficult. Instead of trading perfectly honed light particles with some serious high-tech gear, only one side needs to do all the heavy lifting to exchange encryption keys.
From Technology Review:
In the new technique, only one of the parties, Alice say, needs to have the quantum optics gear such as a source of photons and so on. Alice creates the photons and then sends them down an ordinary optical fibre to Bob, the other party. Bob, merely modifies the photons to encode them with information before sending them back to Alice. This dramatically simplifies the equipment Bob requires, allowing it to fit in a handheld device .
Unlike conventional cryptography, where key pairs are created through complex mathematical problems, quantum crypto relies on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, the foundation of quantum mechanics. The uncertainty principle holds that the mere act of observing a particle changes it.
"Quantum encryption works because if anyone tries to intercept the encrypted secret, the mere act of viewing the secret will change the secret," InfoWorld's Roger Grimes recently reported. "Not only does the invader fail to obtain the secret, but authorized people will know that someone tried to tamper with their secret."
That sounds like a pretty awesome way to keep data secret that could even keep the NSA from snooping on you, but quantum cryptography in everyday life is likely still years away. Until this mind-bending tech goes mainstream, anyone wanting to keep their data or hard drive secure is better off learning how to use the best encryption tools currently available, such as GPG and TrueCrypt.