A step toward quantum-secured communication

Scientists demonstrate a fast and cost-effective platform for keeping data secure.

Advances in computing technology will soon leave the present strategies for encrypting the web information vulnerable to eavesdropping. 

Quantum key distribution offers secure encryption by using the quantum properties of light to produce secure random keys between users for encrypting and encrypting their online data. Even though quantum key distribution is perfect with most fiber-optic systems, progressively robust and more affordable devices are needed to complete this encryption strategy outside the lab.

In a new study, scientists report that secure quantum key exchange can be accomplished between two chip-based gadgets – measuring only 6 x 2 millimeters – possibly over a fiber network with links as much as 200 kilometers in length.

Scientists have demonstrated new chip-based devices that contain all the optical components necessary for quantum key distribution while increasing real-world security.

Research team leader Henry Semenenko from the University of Bristol, UK, said, “Chip-based devices significantly reduce the barrier for widespread uptake of quantum-secured communication by providing a robust, mass-manufacturable platform. “In the future, these devices will form part of a standard household connection to the internet that keeps our data secure regardless of advances in computing technology.”

With the same semiconductor technology found in every smartphone and computer, the new quantum essential distribution devices contain highly complex circuits that control the weak photonic signals of light necessary for quantum key distribution. Nanoscale components in the chips make it conceivable to radically decrease the size and power consumption of quantum communication systems while keeping up high-speed performance crucial for modern networks.

This chip-based device (pink) measures just 6 x 2 millimeters and is poised to provide a fast and cost-effective platform for extremely secure data communication.  Credit: Henry Semenenko, University of Bristol
This chip-based device (pink) measures just 6 x 2 millimeters and is poised to provide a fast and cost-effective platform for extremely secure data communication. Credit: Henry Semenenko, University of Bristol

Semenenko said“With its densely packed optical components, our chip-based platform offers a level of precise control and complexity not achievable with alternatives. It will allow users to access a secure network with a cost-effective device the same size as the routers we use today to access the internet.”

The new platform has been designed to offer citywide networks and drastically reduce the number of connections required between users.

Also, it offers users to connect to a centralized node that enables secure communication with every other user. As quantum networks develop, the centralized node will provide the crucial infrastructure that will eventually support more sophisticated communication protocols.

Scientists demonstrated their new chip-based devices with a proof of principle experiment in which they emulated a 200-kilometer fiber network at the University of Bristol Quantum Engineering Technology Labs. Using two independent chip devices, they showed that error rates and speed were comparable to state-of-the-art, commercial components.

Semenenko said, “We showed that these chip-based devices could be used to produce quantum effects even when photons were generated by different devices. This is vital for quantum networks where each user will control their own devices that are distributed around a city.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Chip-based measurement-device-independent quantum key distribution. DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.379679

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