Encryption revolution: the tantalizing promise of 'unbreakable' codes

Monday, 17 November 2003, 6:44 AM EST

Code-makers could be on the verge of winning their ancient arms race with code-breakers.

After 20 years of research, an encryption process is emerging that is considered unbreakable because it employs the mind-blowing laws of quantum physics.

This month, a small startup called MagiQ Technologies Inc. began selling what appears to be the first commercially available system that uses individual photons to transfer the numeric keys that are widely used to encode and read secret documents.

Photons, discrete particles of energy, are so sensitive that if anyone tries to spy on their travel from one point to another, their behavior will change, tipping off the sender and recipient and invalidating the stolen code.

"There are really no ways (of) cracking this code," said Lov Grover, a quantum computing researcher at Bell Laboratories who is not involved with MagiQ.

Called Navajo - a nod to the American Indian code specialists of World War II - MagiQ's system consists of 19-inch black boxes that generate and read the signals over a fiber-optic line.

[ Read more ]

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