China is looking to make the life of hackers much, much more difficult. The Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology announced on Tuesday that China has plans to launch a wholly functional quantum communications unit in August.
China Daily reports that the Jinan Institute has tested the technology over 50 times since May and has approved it for commercial use. 200 high-ranking and well-trusted military, governmental and financial personnel will be the first to try out this purportedly “unhackable” technology. The first communications channel, which is able to encrypt nearly 4000 pieces of data per second, will connect officials in Shanghai and Beijing.
China started this project just three years ago and the country has quickly become a forerunner in the race to a new age of communication. This announcement comes on the tail of news from earlier this month where Chinese scientists had successfully “teleported” an entangled particle into orbit.
Also known as quantum cryptography, quantum communication does not work like other methods of conventional communication. Encryption styles which have been the standard for the past few decades are becoming more and more obsolete. If hackers have computers which are powerful enough, it is often just a matter of time until they are able to crack encrypted data.
But, unlike phones or the internet, quantum communication systems cannot be hacked. The information sent on these systems is embedded within photons and sent in two parts. First, a key to crack the encryption is transmitted, followed by the message. If at any point during this transaction someone attempts to intercept the messages, the composition of the data is immediately altered and the connection is broken, making the data unreadable. Not only is the hacker left without any information, but the parties on either end of the transmission are immediately notified of the breech in the system. Hence the title of “unhackable.”
“For a long time people simply didn’t think it was needed,” Professor Myungshik Kim of London’s Imperial College told the BBC, “The mathematical difficulty of the current coding system was so high that it was not thought necessary to implement the new technology.”
But, with numerous recent hacks into major banks, online databases, and personal profiles, this technology could provide the securest platform possible for transferring valuable information. According to The Telegraph, Zhou Fei, the assistant director of the Jinan Institute, says that while the system is being tested in high-stakes industries, he and his team are hopeful that the technology will become widespread across not just China, but the world.
“We have to admit that when China invests into something, they have the financial power and manpower that is beyond probably anything else in the world except the US military,” says Valerio Scarani, a physicist with the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore. Meanwhile, Ben Buchler, professor of physics at Australian National University, said in an interview with CNN that “In terms of quantum communications and satellite technology, certainly the Chinese are in front.”
Just like facial recognition technology, China’s rapidly advancing tech is becoming increasingly attractive to other industrialized nations. But, it will be interesting to see if and when Beijing will allow other countries, and its citizens, access to this tech. We imagine, with the most recent instances of increased surveillance and crackdowns on VPNs, that the government is not too eager to provide its citizens with an “unhackable” means of communication.
But, the progress of this scientific leap forward may be slowed because current tech simply cannot keep up. A few possible setbacks include the fact that the possibility of a successful transfer of data is rather dependent on cost and location. Each participant in next month’s trial will need their own terminal to send and receive information. But they certainly do not come cheap. The current network costs nearly $20 million.
Secondly, distance poses a problem. An experiment in the beginning of July saw Chinese scientists successfully sending photons to the Micius satellite, orbiting 500 km above the Earth’s surface. Theoretically, these particles could be sent over any distance, but only in ideal conditions, such as a vacuum in space. Earth’s atmosphere contains plenty of obstacles which can interrupt a communications channel, which means the farther the message has to travel, the smaller the chance that it will be successfully received at its destination.
However, Professor Anton Zeilinger, a quantum physicist at Vienna University in Austria, is confident that this will not hinder the progression of the industry. “It’s a situation where the technology can create its market,” he told BBC.
So, as long as people stay interested, you will definitely be hearing a lot more about quantum communication in the future.
By Emma Abrams
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