Researchers’ quantum hacking machine may help protect against quantum computing hacks

Researchers built the first quantum cloning machine that can intercept a secure message; they believe it may help protect quantum computing networks from being hacked.

quantum computing KryptAll

There seems to be no form of computing which is safe from hacking, but some, such as the Chinese, have pinned their hopes on quantum computing having uncrackable communications. Yet University of Ottawa researchers have managed to build “the first high-dimensional quantum cloning machine capable of performing quantum hacking to intercept a secure quantum message.”

Last year, China launched the world’s first known quantum communications satellite; the Chinese believed its Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) satellite was a step toward “creating an unhackable communications system.” While it may seem like the Canadian researchers have poked holes in the dream of secure quantum communications, the opposite may actually be true.

That is because after building the quantum cloning machine that could perform quantum hacking and capture “secure” quantum messages, the research team believes it may have uncovered ways that would help protect against such hacking. University of Ottawa Department of Physics professor Ebrahim Karimi said, “Once we were able to analyze the results, we discovered some very important clues to help protect quantum computing networks against potential hacking threats.”

According to the University of Ottawa:

Quantum systems were believed to provide perfectly secure data transmission because until now, attempts to copy the transmitted information resulted in an altered or deteriorated version of the original information, thereby defeating the purpose of the initial hack. Traditional computing allows a hacker to simply copy and paste information and replicate it exactly, but this doesn’t hold true in the quantum computing world, where attempts to copy quantum information-or qudits-result in what Karimi refers to as “bad” copies.

The research team cloned “the photons that transmit information, namely the single carriers of light known as qubits;” the clones were not 100 percent perfect, but “were almost exact replicas of the original information.” Not only were they able to undermine “what was previously thought to be a perfect way of securely transmitting information, the researchers’ analyses revealed promising clues into how to protect against such hacking.”

Canadian researchers Frédéric Bouchard, Robert Fickler, Robert W. Boyd and Ebrahim Karimi provided a “simplified sketch” of their experimental cloning machine in the team’s paper, High-dimensional quantum cloning and applications to quantum hacking, which was published in the journal Science Advances on Friday.

University of Ottawa researchers universal optimal quantum cloning machine University of Ottawa researchers Frédéric Bouchard, Robert Fickler, Robert W. Boyd and Ebrahim Karimi

While the entire topic is admittedly far over my head, the concept of Alice and Bob and eavesdropping Eve is not. The researchers included an image of high dimensional quantum key distribution (QKD) with and without quantum hacking. Eve’s attempt to read the message (the bottom image) alters the original.

University of Ottawa researchers' high-dimensional QKD without and with quantum hacking University of Ottawa researchers Frédéric Bouchard, Robert Fickler, Robert W. Boyd and Ebrahim Karimi

“What we found was that when larger amounts of quantum information are encoded on a single photon, the copies will get worse and hacking even simpler to detect,” said researcher Frédéric Bouchard. “We were also able to show that cloning attacks introduce specific, observable noises in a secure quantum communication channel. Ensuring photons contain the largest amount of information possible and monitoring these noises in a secure channel should help strengthen quantum computing networks against potential hacking threats.”

While Karim told the South Morning China Post that he believes his team has come up with a “feasible method to bypass the quantum check,” unnamed Chinese researchers seemed to scoff at the idea of it being an “imminent threat.” One unnamed quantum physicist went so far as to state, “I don’t think the Canadian machine can hack. If it did, the world of physics would collapse.”

The team hopes that others will use their quantum hacking efforts “to study quantum communication systems, or more generally to study how quantum information travels across quantum computer networks.”

Here’s a link to the full version of High-dimensional quantum cloning and applications to quantum hacking.

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