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Entangled Photon Cryptography
Jamais Cascio, 23 Apr 04

One of the weirder elements of quantum physics (and that's saying something) is particle "entanglement:" two particles (usually photons or electrons, but research suggests larger particles may be entangled, too) are linked in a way that means that any disturbance done to one affects the other, instantly, no matter how far away it is. Einstein called this "spooky action at a distance," and we're now starting to see the possibility of practical applications for it. New Scientist reports that quantum entanglement is the basis of a new cryptography method developed by the University of Vienna and the Austrian company ARC Seibersdorf Research. The use of entanglement means that cryptographic key communication can be guaranteed secure, even over completely unsecured lines:

When these [entangled] photons arrived at their destination, their state of polarisation was observed. This provided both ends of the link with the same data, either a one or a zero. In this way, it is possible to build a cryptographic key with which to secure the full financial transaction.

Quantum entanglement ensures the security of communications because any attempt to intercept the photons in transit to determine the key would be immediately obvious to those monitoring the state of the other photons in each pair.

And because the resulting key is random it can be used to provide completely secure link even over an unprotected communications channel, provided a new key is used each time.

Cryptography -- which underlies all electronic commerce, and allows for private conversations -- is often compared to an arms race. Sometimes code creators develop systems that code breakers can't defeat, and sometimes code breakers develop methods of cracking cyphers that were previously thought untouchable. The rise of quantum cryptographic methods suggests we may be moving into an era where encryption is dominant over code-breaking -- a win for privacy, to be sure, but raising questions about our ability to enforce corporate and government transparency regulations.

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Comments

I think that this won't represent a big change. Traditionally, governments have always had enough security to prevent most information from leaking out; cryptography code-breaking has never, to my knowledge, been used as a tool by activits to curtail abuses of government or large corporations. Indeed, it is governments who are using crypto against crime as their excuse for using it also against activists.

Since it is the big money interests who are most likely to take advantage of this new technology and it is the low income (realtively) who would be the only people with any motivation to try to break this system, it seems fitting to me that it simply be used by banks for banking transactions. With the exception of those who would like to destroy the commerse infestruction (for whatever political reason) this doesn't seem like a bad idea to me. Of course, if we want to discuss a viable *replacement* for the world's economic structure, I'd be very interested in hearing about it; but so far, this is what we got and until I see something worth replacing it with, there's certainly no intelligent reason to circomevent it, so far as I'm aware (large scale theft, not withstanding- which doesn't interest me either).


Posted by: Ben Weiss on 23 Apr 04



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