The development of a super-secure quantum Internet and competition in this field happening at full speed. It can fundamentally change the role of information in our lives and create one world-wide quantum supercomputer for quantum communication.
Many of our lives are caused and are happening online. Banks, work mail, social networks, dating profiles, medical records – all is considered as a vital and sensitive information. So, the fact that the internet has a fatal security gap is not gratifying at all. Soon the time will come when the encryption algorithms that protect us online will collapse. This encourages the development of a new, more secure Internet with quantum protection. This system will be able to do much more than just protect your sensitive data. It will provide unseen quantum programs and could become the skeleton of a quantum computer of unimaginable power around the whole world.
The development of the quantum Internet is a huge and multifaceted engineering challenge, but its foundations are already being laid. Fiber optic networks are spreading. Researchers are secretly chatting on local networks. It is even planned to use small satellites for long-distance quantum communications. Sooner or later, we will all be able to join the quantum information superhighway. Human culture and industry have long been based on information. Getting the right information, understanding and sharing it gives you power and profit. The growth of the Internet has established the role of information and we are just beginning to feel its effects. Let us stand on the threshold of a new information age that can change everything again.
Conventional computers use digital units – bits. This is the amount of information that comes from, let’s say, a coin toss, and is usually denoted as 1 or 0. All emails, status updates or photos on your phone are made up of same old bits.
Quantum Computer: Dealing with Qubits
From a quantum world perspective, this approach is very limited because the particles behave very strangely. An atom, electron, or photon can be in a state where its properties are not defined. For example, particles can have two energies at the same time. Those quantum states are extremely fragile, but once learned to manipulate, particles can be used to store a unit of quantum information — a qubit that encodes not just 0 or 1, but any combination of 0 or 1.
By increasing the ability to do this, we have already developed impressive technologies such as super-sensitive gravity and magnetic field sensors. Physicists can already control dozens of qubits at a time, and are developing prototypes of quantum computers. As they grow, they promise to surpass any classic computers that could ever be created – at least for certain types of computing. Many companies are in competition to developing quantum systems.
Among other things, quantum computers should be able to simulate chemical reactions, developing new drugs and advanced materials, as well as solving confusing engineering and logistics problems. Their full potential is not yet known. We know one thing – these incredible machines will need the quantum Internet, because quantum computers threaten our security.
Most encryption schemes ensuring the security of an Internet connection are based on math problems that would be impractical to solve with classical computers, such as factoring large prime numbers. But a large enough quantum computer, using an algorithm developed in 1994 by MIT mathematician Peter Shore, would handle such a task. This would undermine the security of everything based on internet connectivity, from emails to power grids. “Much of the critical infrastructure still depends on these algorithms – including my bank,” says Siddharth Joshi of the University of Bristol, UK.
Such a dangerously powerful quantum machine can probably be expected no sooner than 10 years from now, but the relevance of the problem is no less. Changing encryption systems takes a long time, and the data you are now sending can be intercepted, stored, and decrypted when you have enough powerful quantum computers.
Joshi and others want to repel qubits with qubits. When using the quantum states of individual particles for communication, it is not possible to steal the messages sent, because the signal monitoring itself changes the delicate states. It would not be a substitute for the Internet, but only an additional layer of quantum communication in it to allow users to exchange secret encryption keys.
Internet traffic would continue to travel on cables as it is now, and those keys would only be encrypted and decoded. Such quantum encryption, called quantum key distribution (QKD), has been demonstrated several times over the past few decades. The first QKD bank transfer was made in 2004. There are many different QKD schemes, but one of the safest is based on the phenomenon of quantum coupling.
Initially, two qubits are given a total quantum state, which, when properly measured, changes the measurement result of a pair of particles predictably, wherever those two particles are. Suppose those two qubits are photons. One of the paired pairs with an optical cable, can be exchanged with a secure key. Connections that use many more linked qubits could be used even more impressively, for example, to send messages in a purely quantum form. In the short term, quantum computing capabilities are likely to be modest.
Quantum communication connections could connect them all to one quantum supercomputer. In addition, users could run programs on quantum computers in a way that guarantees their security and not even computer owners could spy it. This is called blind quantum computing. Eventually, anyone could use quantum computers without fear of leaking sensitive data.