Year of selection 2015
Institution ICFO - The Institute of Photonic Sciences
Risk New technologies
As our online lives have grown and grown, our smartphones and laptops have gotten smaller and smaller. The same goes for the devices that secure all of the data we transmit around the planet. At the smallest of scales, where information is conveyed using atoms or even subatomic particles – this miniaturization reaches a point where the traditional laws of physics no longer apply. Researchers like Prof. Antonio Acín are taking advantage of the unique rules that govern this, the quantum world, to keep our data safe from attack, creating systems with no classical equivalent.
His research is part of a paradigm shift in data security. Today’s systems rely on computational security, so called because a third party intercepting your data (transmitted in the form of ordinary bits) would have to perform an extremely difficult – but not impossible – mathematical computation to unlock your information. The new systems of quantum cryptography are different. Information is sent via quantum particles, like photons, and the security they offer is physical in nature. This means that, to hack such a system, you would have to break the laws of quantum physics, something scientists currently believe to be impossible.
Nevertheless, these devices must be implemented corrected to guarantee they cannot be attacked. Currently, a user must take it on faith that the manufacturer was able to create quantum particles with the stated qualities; if they weren’t successful, the system may be hackable. Prof. Acín has pioneered an approach to closing that security loophole with devices whose functioning can be confirmed independently by the user. They rely on the phenomenon of so-called “quantum entanglement”. He compares this to a pair of correlated dice: the result of rolling one die is, indeed, random, but the second always adapts to show the same result as the first. Two entangled quantum particles, one on either end of a secured transmission, behave like these dice. “This correlation is what we could test ourselves,” Prof. Acín explains about his groundbreaking systems. “Once we’ve satisfied the test, we know it’s secure. That’s because quantum physics guarantees our results are random. And that’s why no enemy could predict our result.”
By creating device-independent systems, where security does not rely on the details of the system’s preparation, Prof. Acín believes we can avoid the Achilles’ heel exploited by hackers. Confronting the massive societal risks linked to data privacy, quantum physics has the potential to revolutionize information security and research like Antonio Acín’s is leading the way.
Scientific title: Quantum Cryptography for Enhanced Information Security
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